Recommendations by a Cincinnati engineering firm to upgrade the Ohio Turnpike collections system would avoid the Swanton interchange but affect all of those further west to the Indiana border.
Jacobs Engineering Group has initially proposed a hybrid system using the EZPass collection system and mainline barriers employing people to collect from motorists not using the electronic toll. The engineers recommend the turnpike’s Swanton toll site remain as is, with the changes affecting the Delta, Wauseon, Archbold, and Bryan interchanges.
The engineers’ current recommendation is to repurpose the old Swanton service plaza site as a mainline toll collection facility.
West of Swanton, actual booths and gates would be eliminated at the turnpike exits, swapped for EZPass readers and license plate image cameras. But for those motorists obligated to stop and pay their toll, there would be mainline barriers along the route at two-lane sections of the turnpike.
The estimated cost of the proposed project is $130-$150 million in 2017 dollars, with construction anticipated 2019-20. The upgrade would save the Turnpike Commission approximately $230 million in operating costs over 30 years.
Ohio Turnpike Commission spokesperson Adam Greenslade said Jacobs conducted a review of the collections system that included nearly 14,000 customer surveys in fall of 2016. The results determined that 89 percent want the toll lane gates eliminated as they are in other states.
A survey of stakeholders indicates that 94 percent prefer the gates eliminated.
“Everything west of Toledo to the Indiana border, they’re talking about removing the gates so that those interchanges are opened up,” Greenslade said.
After looking at every conceivable option the engineers determined the hybrid system would work best, he said. The Turnpike Commission is now introducing the proposal to area metropolitan planning organizations and collecting feedback from stakeholders.
“It’s early to say whether (this is) the direction we’re going to go,” Greenslade said. “We have a lot of work to do over the summer to conduct our due diligence prior to reaching a final decision on this recommendation. We want to avoid making any assumptions until this work is concluded.”
In a statement, Ohio Turnpike Executive Director Randy Cole said, “The recommendation to remove gates and install new technology is a bold step forward in convenience for our customers without introducing significant revenue risk to our financial position. On the operations side, we will gain significant efficiencies without wide-scale organizational changes…This is the right time to prepare our roadway for the future if we are going to remain a better way to travel.”
EZPass was introduced by the Ohio Turnpike in 2009. Because its use is approaching the 10-year mark a review of the turnpike’s collections systems was scheduled to consider improvements.
“It’s time to upgrade our system,” Greenslade said.
A decision on the proposal will be made in about two months, he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.