Are you ready for toll roads everywhere?

| February 14, 2009

Here in Colorado, part of the 470 beltway is a toll road — E-470run by the surrounding counties and other regioinal authorities. If you have a transponder (as we do), you can use the automated toll section. Since we live at the southeast corner of E-470, we use the toll road every time we either go to the airport (30 miles north of us) or go to visit our daughter and her family north of Denver. If you don’t have a transponder, there are human-staffed toll booths you can pull up to (see above) and pay with cash or (I presume) credit card.

Those staffed toll booths are about to go away. E-470 has implemented new technology to allow drivers without transponders to use the automated toll lanes. If you don’t have a transponder, these lanes will now photograph your license plate. At the end of the month, you will get a bill for all of your tolls during the month. E-470 plans to shut down all of its human-staffed toll booths by mid-summer, so the toll road will be both completely automated and completely accessible to anyone — for a price. An article in today’s Rocky Mountain News explains some of the details and implications (emphasis mine):

The successful rollout of cashless tolling on E-470 could be pointing the way to the future of transportation funding – the ability to charge tolls without prepaid accounts or coins.

The cutting-edge system uses high-definition cameras to record the license plates of vehicles that pass through a toll plaza. The plate is then traced to the owner, who is billed.

“The industry is trending this way,” said Ed DeLozier, E-470’s executive director. “The last toll booth will be in the Smithsonian someday.”

Such a system could be deployed on other roads, including some that motorists now use free. The result: a new source of money for highways and bridges badly in need of repair. . . .

Transportation planners are struggling to fix aging bridges, repave poor roads and provide new highways with dwindling financial resources.

In Colorado, they have targeted $500 million per year as the threshold just to fix what’s broken now and an additional $1 billion per year to catch up on waiting projects. The gas tax, a major source of money for transportation, hasn’t changed in 18 years and no longer covers the table.

High-tech tolling could provide a dedicated revenue stream for large projects that have no funding. The $850 million replacement of the aging Interstate 70 viaduct through Denver is among them.

With one license-plate scanning station on the viaduct, today’s traffic numbers would generate slightly more than $100 million of bond financing for every 25 cents in tolls. . . .

Dave Kristick, E-470’s operations manager, said the new cameras can be programmed to sound an alert when selected plates are keyed in – for example, a frequent toll violator, an Amber Alert or a stolen vehicle.

“There’s a whole bunch of people watching us to see how this is working,” Kristick said.

I’ll bet. Stop and think about it. Once a system like this is deployed on a given street, highway, or freeway, then the local government in charge of it can tweak or adjust tolls and collect information to their heart’s content, all in the name of infrastructure repair, environmentalism, social engineering, and even law enforcement (e.g., automated speeding tickets if you pass through two scanning stations in too short a time interval).

If you think red-light cameras are bad, just wait until this takes root.   ..bruce w..

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Category: Colorado, Economics, Engineering, Environment, Freeways, Information Technology, Main, US Politics

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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