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Published: Wednesday, 5/4/2005

Time for a 'pike' pass

AT LEAST 18 states now have electronic toll collection that eases congestion and saves wasted time for motorists using their expressways.

It's time - long past time, actually - for Ohio to join the club.

Adopting E-Z Pass, the automated toll system used by nine states in the northeastern U.S., would make frequent commutes easier for a significant portion of the nearly 50 million car and truck drivers who traverse the northern part of the state on the Ohio Turnpike annually.

E-Z Pass uses a small electronic transponder installed in motor vehicles to allow motorists to pass through designated tollbooth lanes without stopping. Drivers don't have to worry about carrying change or losing their tickets; tolls are collected through credit-card accounts.

Strong interest in toll automation is no secret to the Ohio Turnpike Commission, which devotes a sizable chunk of its Internet site to an explanation of why it has not adopted E-Z Pass.

The turnpike does have a pre-pay system called "Ready Toll," but it still requires motorists to stop at toll booths to have attendants swipe their cards through a reader. Timewise, it's no real advantage, and there are no designated-lane short cuts for Ready Toll users.

Turnpike officials cite cost as a major reason for not adopting E-Z Pass. They also point out that a majority of turnpike users do so only once or twice a year and would not benefit from a system intended primarily for urban areas with high volumes of commuter traffic.

Those objections don't ring true, especially as suburban sprawl increases and more and more people live farther from their places of employment.

Moreover, other states that have both heavy local commuter traffic and long stretches of inter-city tollways already have adopted automated toll collection.

E-Z Pass is in operation on more than 60 expressways, bridges, and tunnels in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Similar systems also are in place in Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Florida, Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, and California, so this is hardly new and untested technology.

This broad experience in so many states makes it likely that Ohio can find an electronic toll collection system for the turnpike that would be both serviceable and cost-effective, and would provide a valuable convenience for motorists. The turnpike commission should get busy and do so at once.

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