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New Pennsylvania Turnpike tolling system to pave way for 3 new exits

New Pennsylvania Turnpike tolling system to pave way for 3 new exits
New Pennsylvania Turnpike tolling system to pave way for 3 new exits 01:29

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) - Even after cash tolls went away, toll collection on the Pennsylvania Turnpike has not only monetary costs but also environmental ones. That's because you have to slow down before you speed up again to use the fast road, which wastes gas, not to mention time. 

Plus, the need to funnel cars through toll plazas has always meant Turnpike interchanges so big that they didn't fit in a lot of places where people might want them. 

The tolls aren't going away – in fact, they're about to rise another 5 percent. But the non-monetary things to hate about them could improve, beginning in 2024 in eastern Pennsylvania and 2026 near Pittsburgh, thanks to something called "open-road tolling." 

"Even though we don't collect cash anymore, we still have cars slowing down at our toll plazas," explained Carl DeFebo, a Turnpike spokesperson. "Open-road tolling is basically nonstop, free-flowing travel that allows the Turnpike to collect tolls not at the interchanges as we do today, but as traffic drives the posted speed limit of 70 miles per hour under toll 'gantries.'" 

Love 'em or (more likely) hate 'em, take a good look at the time-worn toll plazas, because they'll eventually be as common as a rotary phone or a black-and-white television. 

"The toll booth will largely be demolished," DeFebo said. 

In its place will be … nothing. Well, sort of. 

The longer version of the story is sensors positioned along those "gantries," as they're called, over the main travel lanes will detect how far cars have traveled. Tolls will be calculated a bit differently: There'll be zones and per-mile charges, and although bigger vehicles will still pay more than smaller ones, size will be measured based on number of axels and height rather than number of axels and weight, DeFebo said. 

(Photo: Provided)

But there really will be nothing to speak of, physically, where the tolls booths are now. And that's the point. Not only will interchanges cost less to build, DeFebo said, but they'll take up far less space than the Turnpike's current winding interchanges, which were designed to collect cars from all different directions and funnel them all through a single toll place. In turn, he said, the Turnpike can build interchanges where they didn't fit before. 

The first three new ones will be where the Turnpike intersects Lafayette Street in Montgomery County, Scranton Beltway in Lackawanna County and Route 130 in Westmoreland County. 

Open-road tolling is already common along other roadways, such as the Atlantic City Expressway. Turnpike users will still be able to pay using the E-ZPass system; motorists who don't have E-ZPass will still receive bills in the mail. 

Those motorists who don't have E-ZPass pay higher rates but account for a disproportionate percentage of toll scofflaws. The new placement of toll collection equipment won't directly help that situation, but separately, leaders hope a new law will help them rein in uncollected tolls.

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