Tobin Bridge opens new toll plaza arrangement with E-ZPASS ONLY lanes
2012-10-20: Late Sunday night (2012-10-21 22:00) the Tobin Bridge in Boston will go to a new grouped pattern of E-ZPASS ONLY leftside or CASH ONLY lanes rightside. Until now all seven toll lanes have been mixed lanes allowing drivers to use a lane with a transponder or to pay cash, requiring all lanes to be staffed. Or unstaffed lanes have been closed.
Now lanes will be switchable between E-ZPASS ONLY, CASH ONLY, or mixed E-ZPASS/CASH.
63% of Tobin Bridge patrons presently use E-ZPASS or FAST LANE as it has been known in Massachusetts.
Yet another local brand-name is disappearing. New signs and new transponders now carry the purple ultra bold Italic Helvetica E-ZPass that originated in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area and has gradually displaced local brands everywhere except Illinois.
The Tobin Bridge carrying the Northeast Expressway US1 over a wide estuarial section of the Mystic River in the inner northern suburbs of Boston has three travel lanes each direction. The old (late 1940s construction) steel cantilever truss bridge is a double-decker carrying southbound traffic (tolled) inbound to Boston on the upper deck and northbound (untolled) outbound traffic on the lower deck.
Toll plaza perched high on rickety looking approach spans
Just off the main span but still high (70ft) on an approach span on the Boston side the top deck widens to provide seven toll lanes.
The collectors booths are covered by a large canopy, the booths heated for the winter or cooled by air-conditioning in the summer. There is break room and offices perched on the northern edge of the structure.
It seems likely that motorists will usually see two or three E-ZPASS ONLY lanes on the left of the roadway and five or four CASH or mixed lanes on the right. But the new system allows the plaza manager to adjust the mix of modes according to patron demand and available staff.
Throughput should be improved at least for those with transponders who should be able to keep on rolling. At present they don't know whether those ahead have a transponder or cash, so sometimes they have to come to a complete stop, and creep forward, while other times they can roll through.
MassDOT Highway Administrator Frank DePaola is quoted: "Customers on the Massachusetts Turnpike and at the Airport Tunnels are accustomed to the separate ‘E-ZPASS’ and ‘CASH ONLY’ lanes. Tobin commuters will now know what to expect from the drivers in front of them. Predictability will improve safety."
In normal operations in island separated toll lanes cash lanes can process up to 300 or 400 vehicles per hour while roll-through transponder lanes can do 1,000 vehicles/hour.
E-ZPass leftside, Cash rightside
Grouped payment modes with Cash rightside and transponders leftside are the norm at most toll plazas in the state - on the Turnpike and the Sumner and Callahan tunnels. The Tobin Bridge used to be operated by the state Port Authority.
The numbers will vary according to the proportion of regular users (better prepared and quicker) versus occasional users, and according to the simplicity or complexity of the toll - and the number needing change or a receipt. Or directions from the toll collector, or just wanting to chat a bit.
Tolls at the Tobin Bridge are $3.00 cash for cars, $2.50 transponder increasing by $1.50/axle with the typical 5-axle tractor trailer being $7.50 cash $7.00 transponder. Residents of Charlestown and Chelsea - the suburbs immediately on each side of the bridge get a 90% discount and pay only 30c/trip with a transponder account.
FAST LANE brand disappears
FAST LANE signs have been replaced by E-ZPass signs over the past several months on a progressive basis on the Massachusetts Turnpike and toll tunnels also administered these days by Massachusetts DOY ('MassDOT'). At the Tobin Bridge the signage changeover is being made as part of the change to grouped toll payment modes.
Cost of the signage switchover systemwide is put at $1.2m, including some new striping and lane markings.
At the Port Authority from the late 1980s to 2010 the bridge director was Mary Jane O'Meara, a forceful bridge executive director who always reminded those in charge of the airport and port that she was the only one who consistently made money.
"Remember, I make the money and you lose it," she would tease them.
After 22 years as bridge director Mary Jane, as she was known, left after her bridge was turned over to Massachusetts DOT Highway Division in 2010. She went to HNTB.
The ole bridge
Let's be upfront about our esthetic prejudice - we HATE these cantilevered truss bridges. And they're not just ugly-as-hell, an esthetic atrocity, but appallingly difficult, dangerous, and expensive to maintain.
Rising from near sea level on either side to provide 135ft, 51m clearance for shipping and with gentle slopes to support truck traffic the ole Tobin is 11,900ft, 2.25 miles, 3.63km long with 72 spans, the central span being 800ft, 245m.
The sheer number of steel members (over 100k) and fasteners (about 250k rivets and bolts) make for enormous costs of inspection, maintenance and rehab. These run to about $10m/year or about a third of the current toll revenue.
Traffic or annual average daily trips is reported at 65k/day for 2011, though there seems to be a discrepancy between MassDOT and MassPort statistics from Jan 1 2010 when the switchover occurred. Highest annual traffic recorded though the south bound only toll plaza in the past decade was 12.4m in 2001 (68k both directions AADT.) Traffic dropped with the strong increases in tolls - up threefold from $1.00 car cash 2001 to $3.00 car cash 2004.
By 2005 traffic was 53k vs 68k or down 21.6% from 2001. With tolls flat at $3.00 since 2005 traffic has regrown slowly and in 2011 MassDOT reported 65k AADT.