Pike commuters, brace yourselves: Halloween morning is just the beginning of some scary traffic. And by scary we mean congested.
Expect delays along the Massachusetts Turnpike through Nov. 22, according to officials Department of Transportation officials.
The department began the transition to all-electronic tolling on Friday. Officials are getting rid of all toll plazas, reconstructing the roadway, and streamlining the commute along I-90, using gantries to collect vehicle information as drivers travel along the highway.
Teams of workers were deployed Friday to start the first phase of demolition of all the toll booths along the Mass. Pike. There are currently 23 active construction sites along the turnpike.
Unfamiliar traffic patterns coupled with rush-hour traffic and a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit could result in severe traffic slowdowns. So highway officials urged Sunday at a press conference: If you can change your schedule to avoid the Mass. Pike this week, do so.
“The bottom line is there’s less road for people,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “Some of what had been the road . . . is now a work zone. . . . It is likely that there are going to be backups that’s why we’re asking people to be patient.”
As of 8 a.m. Sunday, Pollack said, the new all-electronic tolling system processed nearly 1.5 million transactions. An estimated 76 percent of those transactions are reading E-ZPassMA transponders and 24 percent in the initial run are going to have to be pay by plate, she said.
Drivers without transponders have a six-month grace period to jump on the bandwagon and should expect to receive their first bill by mail. During this period, those who apply for a free transponder will be credited the difference in amount between the pay-by-plate rate and the E-ZPassMA rate once they pay their initial bill in full.
Traffic generally moved smoothly over the weekend, but Saturday night in Allston-Brighton there was a 1-mile westbound backup due to a lane closure as teams prepared for demolition along a section of the pike, according to Department of Transportation highway administrator Thomas Tinlin.
The overarching public safety message? Obey the speed limit, stay in your lane, and do not stop at the old toll booths. Nobody will be there to take your money, Tinlin said.
“We’re asking you to look at the way you travel and maybe make a difference,” Tinlin said. “Use the MBTA if that’s an option to you, this would be a really good week to do that. If you can alter your work schedule in any way, this would be a really good week to do that. If you can go in late or really early, this would be a really good week to do that.”
State Police Major Terry Hanson said things went well over the weekend and no problems were reported.
Monday could be another story.
Hanson said there will be a robust police presence on the roads Monday including extra tow trucks.
The long-term benefit of this project is improved air quality, improved congestion, and improved safety, said Director of Highway Safety Jeff Larason. The short-term challenge, Tinlin said, is traffic.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done. There will be a lot of inconvenience,” Tinlin said. “Anything that the driving public can do to give us the road, let us do our job — we’re going get you to where you need to be safely.”