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Published: Saturday, 1/16/2010

Highway robbery

IT IS not fair for the Ohio Turnpike Commission to charge passenger vehicles the same rate as commercial trucks just because a car or minivan has a bicycle or luggage rack strapped temporarily to its roof. A new height classification has gone into effect with new toll rates, and now passenger vehicles are charged the same fee as large trucks.

If rooftop items on such vehicles measure 7 feet, 6 inches tall or higher, they automatically fall into a toll category meant for heavier two-axle trucks. When the turnpike installed its E-Z Pass system, it included a laser scanner to gauge the height of vehicles as they pass under an entrance gantry before they enter a toll lane.

The laser makes no distinction between a two-axle truck and a car with bike racks that exceed the 7-foot, 6-inch height designation for a higher toll classification. That could hike the standard toll rate for a passenger car to cross the state from $15 to $25.

The New York State Thruway has a similar height classification for tolls. But unlike in Ohio, rooftop objects are not considered in determining a vehicle's toll class. Ohio Turnpike Executive Director George Distel says technical efforts are under way to get a better read on the actual height of vehicles. Toll collectors have been given some flexibility to override toll rates on cars carrying material on top.

But Mr. Distel says those vehicles make up only a small percentage of turnpike traffic.

The busy summer tourist season may challenge that assertion and raise the volume of complaints from people unfairly paying higher tolls if turnpike officials don't adjust the classifications soon.

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