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Electronic toll collection soon coming to Tobin Bridge

Massachusetts residents will start to see all-electronic tolling on Tobin Memorial Bridge before the end of this year.

The push toward “open-road tolling” began late last year, when transportation officials announced that they planned to cut costs by eliminating toll-collection booths and replacing them with digital toll collection technology.

Last Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey announced at a State House hearing that the process will make its debut before the end of the year on Tobin Bridge, which runs from Charlestown to Chelsea, as a trial run before the new technology extends to other toll collection plazas throughout the state.


Later this week, state highway administrator Frank DePaola gave more details on the process, saying the electronic-only tolling on Tobin would likely begin in the fall, though the switch probably will not occur on the Massachusetts Turnpike until 2016.

“Because Tobin is a single location, we thought it was a good choice to do a pilot,” said DePaola.

Open-road tolling, which has been adopted in other states in recent years, eliminates cash at toll collection stations. Motorists with E-ZPasses will have their fare automatically deducted from their accounts, while those without transponders will have bills sent to the address associated with their license plates.

Those bills will be sent out to motorists after one month, or after a driver racks up $20 in charges — whichever comes first.

State officials estimate the switch will save the state millions over the years, and will reduce congestion as cars will no longer need to slow down when driving through tolls.

Installing the collection booths along Massachusetts Turnpike is a herculean undertaking, as dozens of toll booths would need to be rehauled at once. But officials are hoping the Tobin Bridge, where tolls are only collected southbound, would offer a good site to work out the kinks in the system before it is rolled out in other parts of the state.


Traffic delays will be minimal, DePaola said, and will probably only require some overnight closures to erect the canopy of E-ZPass detectors and high-speed cameras.

Instead of straddling the center of the bridge, where the toll plaza is located now, the new archway will be located just before the entrance to the bridge on the Chelsea end.

After the new technology is put in place, there will likely be a 90-day overlap before halting the use of the toll collection booths, DePaola said. Highway administrators will be monitoring the reliability of the cameras that detect and identify license plate numbers on cars that will not need to slow.

“We expect there will be some license plates that are obscured or unreadable,” DePaola said. “We’re looking to see, based on our experiences with the Tobin, what that percentage of unreadable license plates is. That might help us adjust for the overall system.”

The Tobin project will cost the state just under $4 million — $2 million to install the new toll bridge, about $1.2 million to make related software updates to the toll collection computer system, and another several hundred thousand dollars to demolish the existing toll plaza.

And in an effort to ensure that out-of-state drivers adhere to the new digital-only practice, DePaola said, the state has entered into an agreement that will allow Massachusetts officials to petition their counterparts in Maine and New Hamsphire to hold up a motor vehicle registration transaction if a driver has an outstanding toll violation in the Bay State.


Coupled with the switch to an all-electronic system will be an intensive push to encourage motorists to get an E-ZPass transponder. That campaign will include announcements on the digital messaging boards that line Interstate 93.

Martine Powers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.