|NEW TOLL SYSTEM By Kathy Liebler & Jean Ward|
NEW WARRENDALE PLAZA WILL HAVE A FLAT RATE, NO TOLLS AT
NEW CASTLE, BEAVER VALLEY, AND CRANBERRY
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has taken initial steps to change the way tolls are collected on the Turnpike in southwestern Pennsylvania between the Gateway mainline toll plaza at the Ohio line and the Cranberry Interchange (Exit # 3). By changing the toll collection system, the Commission hopes to alleviate traffic congestion at the Cranberry Interchange and surrounding highways and at the same time make provisions to accommodate electronic toll collection (ETC) -- a critical part of the Turnpikes future.
Final design of the new toll collection system is scheduled for completion in the fall of 1999 with construction beginning in the spring of 2000. The project is expected to take two years to complete and should be in place by late 2002. This schedule is consistent with PENNDOTs schedule for the construction of a connector with I-79 at the Cranberry Interchange.
The Commission recently approved the proposed toll conversion plan, directing Turnpike engineers to begin design of a system that calls for the construction of a new mainline toll plaza, just east of the Cranberry Interchange, at milepost 31 in Marshall Township. The site is the location of the Butler Service Plaza, which eventually will be placed out of service. The proposal also calls for the elimination of toll collection at the New Castle, Beaver Valley and Cranberry Interchanges (1A, 2 and 3).
Under the toll conversion, motorists entering and exiting the Gateway mainline toll plaza will pay a flat rate with the new mainline toll plaza at mile post 31, Warrendale Plaza, becoming the start of the Turnpikes ticket system. The Warrendale Plaza will be a twelve-lane plaza where motorists traveling eastbound will collect their fare ticket and motorists traveling westbound will pay their toll based on the distance traveled. At Gateway, travelers coming eastbound from Ohio and those going westbound from Pennsylvania will pay the same flat rate when passing through and no fare tickets will be exchanged.
Rapid growth and community development off the Cranberry Interchange, as well as PENNDOTs I -79 connector project with the Turnpike, required the Commission to consider expansion of the Cranberry Interchange to accommodate the increasing flow of traffic. The Commission conducted studies to determine the best way to expand the Cranberry toll plaza, but findings showed that expansion of that plaza would not be an efficient solution to the problem.
Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) or E-ZPass is another major reason the Commission decided to consider the conversion. With ETC scheduled for implementation in the Philadelphia area in June 2000, it is only a matter of time that the technology will be expanded on a system wide basis. The toll conversion design will ensure that both the Gateway and the Warrendale plazas will be equipped to handle electronic toll collection. ETC will give motorists the capability of passing through the toll plaza without having to stop and pay a toll if they are an E-ZPass customer.
Here is how the proposed new toll collection system for western Pennsylvania will work: A person traveling from Philadelphia to Ohio will collect a ticket as usual when they enter the Turnpike. Then, instead of paying their toll at the Gateway mainline toll plaza, they will surrender their ticket and pay their toll at the new Warrendale mainline toll plaza. After passing through the new plaza, a motorist continuing on to Ohio will pay a flat rate when going through the Gateway toll plaza. Travelers who exit the Turnpike at Interchanges 1A, 2 and 3 will not pay a toll.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike is already utilizing this type of toll collection on the Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass, Turnpike 66, around Greensburg and on the northern section of the Northeastern Extension, I-476, around Scranton. Commission officials said the new system, when implemented, will allow for a smoother, more efficient flow of traffic providing safer and improved service to Turnpike customers who live, work and visit the Cranberry area and surrounding communities.