NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Motorists who have driven through the New Gloucester toll plaza in recent months have more than likely seen a large construction project cutting through the heart of the highway.
The work looks complete, with tall concrete barriers separating the new travel lanes from the rest of the toll plaza, but before it becomes the first open road toll plaza in Maine, engineers must fine tune the technology that will make it work.
"We are testing right now," explained Walter Fagerlund, a senior technical advisor with contractor HNTB. "We are testing to make sure the transponders, the EZ Pass, is read correctly and is assigned to the correct vehicle. We are making sure that if you don't have an EZ Pass and you happen to go through here, that we get a photograph and make sure, just like the EZ Pass lanes that are there today, it will behave in the same way, but it is tuned to handle all speeds of traffic."
Fagerlund says the EZ Pass transponders in cars and trucks transmit information that is gathered by antennas mounted to the metal cribwork now in place over the lanes.
"It recognizes who you are and makes sure you are billed appropriately," he said, explaining that the system needs to reach a high level of accuracy, above 99%, before the lanes are opened to the public.
"We have to make sure these things are right. This is about revenue, it is about safety, it is about making sure that we have all the pieces in place to make sure we are providing the customer with the best product possible," said Fagerlund.
While the new technology will enhance safety for drivers, by separating drivers who are stopping to pay with cash from others with EZ Passes who now have to slow down to get hrough the tolls, it will be new to many drivers who haven't been exposed to the toll plazas which are used in many other states.
To make sure drivers are up to speed, the Maine Turnpike Authority will be rolling out an educational campaign and adding signage at the toll plaza to help keep drivers from becoming confused.
"It is going to improve traffic capacity, operations and safety at the toll plaza," said MTA spokesperson, Dan Morin. He says the main thing people need to know about the new toll plaza, is that if they are in the highway speed lanes, that they do not stop, ever, even if they enter them by mistake.
"Those people need to continue going with the flow," explained Morin. "They will be sent a bill in the mail. It is important, it is imperative, that they do not stop, do not pull over, and do not try to seek assistance from the toll takers in the cash lanes."
Morin says drivers who do not have an EZ Pass will have a picture taken of the license plate and will receive a bill for the toll owed in the mail.
He says motorists that do not have an EZ Pass and use the lanes more than a couple times will not only have to pay the toll, but they will also be assessed an administrative fee.
He says they expect to open the new highway speed toll lanes to the public on April 1st.
Once those lanes are open, he says they will begin focusing on replacement of the toll plazas and adding more highway speed lanes at the toll plazas on the northern end of the turnpike.