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Mass Pike Toll Booth Demolition Is Ahead Of Schedule


            Weekday commuters on the Massachusetts Turnpike saw big changes today, but not the big traffic jams some feared might occur.  This was the first work day of all-electronic open-road tolling statewide.

            The switch to the new cashless tolling system and the start of a project to clear away all 23 now obsolete toll plazas on the Mass Pike apparently went off without a hitch.

          " This morning went really, really well," said  Massachusetts Highway Administrator Thomas Tinlin, who credited months of planning, coordination and execution. " But the real credit goes to the traveling public."

           He urged drivers to continue to plan their Turnpike travel as if they were heading out in a snowstorm for the next 2-3 weeks. Commuters were advised to leave for work early, take public transit, or telecommute.

           Crews at the 23 active construction sites along the Turnpike are tearing down the toll plaza canopies, removing the toll booths, and concrete dividers, and filling in tunnels that connected the booths. The areas must be repaved and new lane markers painted.

         Tinlin, at a news conference Monday, said the work is ahead of schedule overall. Seventy-six of the 155 toll booths have been torn down. The toll booths at West Stockbridge were gone by 8 a.m. Monday.  Toll plaza canopies will be razed Monday night in Westfield, West Springfield, Chicopee, and Ludlow, MassDOT reported.

       During the construction work at the toll plazas, the number of lanes available is reduced and the speed limit is 15 mph.  200 Massachusetts State Troopers have been assigned to enforce the traffic rules in the work zones, according to State Police Superintendent Col. Richard McKeon.

     " Since the beginning of the project we have had only one minor crash at a work zone," he said.

      The switch to all-electronic open-road tolling happened just after 10 p.m. Friday.  Toll booths closed and motorists are now being charged when they drive underneath any of 16 gantries with sensors and cameras that are stationed along with 132-mile length of the highway.

     Steve Collins, MassDOT’s director of tolling, said the system had logged 2.8 million transactions between the time it went live Friday night and 8 a.m. Monday.

   " Right now we are very close to 80 percent of those being EZ Pass transactions, so we believe we will hit that 80 percent mark during the normal work week," said Collins.

     He said there are almost 3 million EZ Pass transponders in use in Massachusetts.

   Motorists with a Massachusetts-issued EZ Pass transponder pay the lowest toll rate.  People with no transponder are charged the highest tolls under a so-called pay-by-plate system where the registered owner of the car whose license plate is photographed passing under a gantry is sent a bill in the mail.

   MassDOT has announced a six-month grace period for people to obtain transponders and be refunded the difference between what they were billed under the pay-by-plate rate and what they would have paid if they had a transponder attached to the car.  MassDOT officials said Friday that grace period will be in effect for all future new Massachusetts EZPass customers to accommodate new arrivals to the state, such as college students.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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