Toll Facility Safety Study Report to Congress
Appendix E - Agency Interviews
The interview findings are presented in three sections according to the three goal areas:
- Issues addressing the requirements of the Report to Congress.
- Safety strategies aimed at reducing vehicular accidents.
- Safety strategies aimed at reducing worker injuries.
Note that much of the information presented here is also presented, together with a synthesis of the site visits and the workshop, in Section 4, Findings - Factors Affecting Safety at Toll Plazas.
Findings Directly Related to the Requirements of the Report to Congress
The Extent of the Enforcement of Speed Limits
Of the 21 toll operators interviewed, 4 reported that they have a dedicated police force. Other operators reported that State and local police patrol their facilities, but that there is no regular schedule for their patrols. Some operators contract with State Police to ensure that regular enforcement services are provided.
When police are at the plaza, different tactics are used when enforcing traffic violations. Sometimes the police stay in their vehicles and conduct speed enforcement using radar from either the plaza parking lot or from downstream of the plaza on the shoulder.
Another speed enforcement tactic used by the police is to place an officer on the toll island with radar. When a speeder is identified, the officer calls the vehicle description out to a chase cruiser that is downstream of the plaza to pull the vehicle over. The police will also sometimes use decoys for speed enforcement by placing radar inside an inconspicuous vehicle, such as a dump truck, on the shoulder at the plaza. Some operators reported that the police will also park unmanned police cruisers at the plaza to assist with speed reduction.
In addition to speed enforcement, the police will also use toll plazas to conduct checkpoints for seat belt use, expired stickers, drugs, and drunk driving. For this activity, police officers typically stand either in the toll booth with the collector, or behind the toll booth.
While one agency reported that law enforcement practices minimally affect safety in the vicinity of their toll plazas, an overwhelming majority of those interviewed reported that there is no negative affect on plaza safety due to law enforcement activity.
The Use of Warning Devices
Of those interviewed, 13 reported that they do not use rumble strips to alert drivers that they are approaching a toll plaza. Most commented that they do not use rumble strips because the noise they generate is disruptive to nearby residential areas. Some reported that the rumble strips also cause problems during snow plow operations.
The operators that do use rumble strips typically install them in advance of the flare for the toll plaza. The primary goal of the rumble strips is to generate sound to alert the collectors of a vehicle approaching. One operator reported that they have rumble strips at select plazas in locations where collectors cross traffic. Another reported that rumble strips are part of their plaza design for new plazas under construction.
The Use of Traffic Cameras for Traffic Violations
Four operators reported using traffic cameras to record traffic violations. One agency reported using white on black regulatory signs to advise motorists that the toll plaza is photo enforced. One agency reported that they do not use automated enforcement because they cannot legally use cameras for traffic violations such as speeding in their State.
The Use of Traffic Control Arms
Eleven operators reported using traffic control arms at their plazas, with most reporting that they use their gates at the exit of the plaza. Two operators reported using the gates in all of their lanes, including ETC lanes, but a majority of operators reported using them in their manual lanes only. With the exception of one agency, the gates are automated (i.e., they automatically lift as a vehicle with ETC approaches). Operators reported various reasons for using traffic control arms including speed reduction, toll violation reduction, and traffic control. Operators that do not use gates report several reasons for their decisions: the industry trend toward open road tolling, volume is too high through the plaza, expense, and maintenance.
One operator reported using gates at the front of the toll island (their gates are used to close lanes and are manually operated by toll collectors).
The traffic control arms when used are typically red and white. Some operators affix signs to the gates with messages like STOP or DO NOT BACK UP. One operator reported that advertising signs are placed on their gates. One agency has installed unique 3-foot high orange reflectors that look like driveway markers on their gates. The operator was having trouble with truckers hitting the gates because they could not see that the gate was still closed. Since the addition of the reflectors, the operator reported that there has been a significant reduction in the gates being hit. The reflectors are bolted onto the gates with stainless steel bolts and they do not interfere with the island when the gate is in the vertical position.
Law Enforcement Practices and Jurisdictional Issues
There were no reports during the interviews of law enforcement practices or jurisdictional issues that affect safety in the vicinity of toll plazas.
Safety Strategies for Reducing Vehicular Accidents
A majority of toll operators reported that speed through the toll plazas is a major safety concern. One agency reported that State legislation allows increased fines for speeding in toll areas. The legislation applies only to toll plazas where the speed at the plaza is reduced to 30 mph for ETC lanes. This operator has ORT where the speed limit is not reduced and increased fines for speeding do not apply at these areas. The operator reported that signs are present to warn drivers of increased fines at the plaza. There is not yet any feedback to substantiate if the increased fines have had an affect on speed through the plazas.
Preventing Vehicle Stops in ETC / ORT Lanes
Stopping in ETC / ORT lanes is a major hazard and can cause rear end collisions. One operator was concerned about drivers stopping in its ORT lanes and trying to get the attention of toll collectors to pay cash. The operator even reported that some drivers would stop, get out of their vehicle, and cross toll lanes to get to a booth to pay the toll.
In an attempt to mitigate this risk, the operator constructed a raised barrier wall at the toll plaza that is 72 inches high. A second agency also reported using a raised barrier wall to separate ORT lanes from manual lanes, but its purpose was solely to visually separate the faster ORT vehicles from the stopped vehicles in the manual lanes. Another tactic for preventing vehicles from stopping in electronic lanes is the use of signs. One agency reported using red on white signs advising motorists not to stop in the ETC lanes. Signs are placed on the gantry approaching the plaza and additional signs are placed at an angle on the barrier wall that separates the direction of traffic. There are approximately 18 total signs warning drivers not to stop. The operator reported that signs seem to make some difference in reducing vehicle stops in the ETC lanes.
In addition to the signs, the same operator has speakers installed on the barrier wall at the toll island so that if a vehicle stops in an ETC lane at the plaza an employee can verbally direct the driver to keep moving.
One operator with a new turnpike under construction reported that it plans to use video tolling as a method of preventing vehicle stops in ORT lanes. Video tolling will be used for drivers that get in the ORT lane by mistake as well as for people that simply do not want to get a transponder. Since video tolling will be in use, signs are being considered for the ORT lanes that read DO NOT STOP - WE WILL BILL YOU.
Three agencies reported specialized lane attendant personnel for handling stopped vehicles in ETC lanes. These employees are stationed in areas at the toll plaza so that they can quickly assist drivers who encounter problems in the ETC lanes, such as those whose transponders are not working or cash drivers who are in the wrong lane.
Eight operators reported installing special pavement markings to assist drivers with lane selection at the toll plaza. Some operators installed messages in the lanes such as CASH ONLY or the name of the ETC system (i.e., EZ PASS). Some operators also installed lane numbers on the pavement to match the lane numbers on the canopy signs. The numbers were often installed so that the drivers could see the number on the canopy and the number in the lane at the same time. A few operators also reported extending their longitudinal markings further upstream of the toll plaza to assist with lane delineation. In most cases, the markings are white with the exception of a few operators that are using purple markings to further assist drivers with identifying ETC lanes.
A majority of operators report that the markings hold up fairly well and do not need to be replaced very often. Most reported that their markings had been in place for 2 years or more. Operators also commented that thermoplastic markings seem to last longer than paint.
While some operators reported a significant reduction in last minute lane changes at the plaza others reported no reduction in this driver behavior at all. One operator indicated that last minute lane changes may not be attributed to driver confusion. Some drivers will ride the faster lane and then cut into the lane they need at the last minute. Other times, drivers will commit to a toll lane but then see a shorter line at the plaza and switch lanes.
One operator uses flexible delineators upstream of the toll plaza to prevent severe lane changes. The delineators are red and white and are moveable. They do get hit, but they are designed to bounce back and only occasionally is there a problem with delineators littering the roadway.
One operator reported using cones to separate directions of travel at the plaza. Orange cones are used because the toll facility has reversible lanes. The operator reported that the cones do not get hit often because traffic is typically slow through the plaza, but there are problems with the color fading due to ultraviolet exposure.
All operators use advance signs to warn drivers that they are approaching a toll plaza. Sign messages frequently include TOLL PLAZA AHEAD, PAY TOLL AHEAD, etc. In addition to these warning signs, some operators are also using lane designation signs in advance of the plaza.
One operator uses two advance signs to get drivers into the proper lane and then drivers receive a third lane designation sign overhead at the plaza. Personnel report that the addition of these signs seems to have decreased the weaving of traffic at the toll plaza.
Another operator uses advance lane designation signs, but its signs are more unique. After departing the plaza, drivers can either take an Interstate or exit onto a local road. The advance signs direct drivers to the side of the toll plaza where they will need to be depending on their direction of travel downstream of the plaza. The operator reported that since installing the lane designation signs, there has not been one accident downstream of the plaza.
A few operators reported that the issue of too many signs has been a problem for them as drivers become overwhelmed and do not see anything. One operator reported excessive signs as a problem, but commented that none of the signs could be removed because the facility is at a border crossing where extra signs are necessary.
Toll Plaza Approach Warning Devices
An innovative strategy reported by one agency was the installation of white strobe lighting on the canopies at all toll plazas to highlight facilities in inclement weather. The operator reported that the strobe lighting has definitely helped drivers in foggy driving conditions.
The same agency reported using maintenance trucks with flashing lights and qualified flagging personnel at the rear of traffic back-ups when the traffic volume stretches beyond sight of the plaza. This technique is used to prevent rear end collisions at the end of the queue.
One operator initiated a Toll Plaza Safety Awareness Program. This is a month-long program that runs twice a year. The operator has its own dedicated police force, and together with the State Police, they run the awareness program. Police perform various operations at the toll plaza including seatbelt checks and ETC speed enforcement. Additional signs, such as portable changeable message signs, are used as needed. The operator reported that toll operations are not negatively impacted and the program seems to have a short-term affect on negative driver behavior.
Safety Strategies for Reducing Worker Injuries
Vests are typical safety garments provided to toll plaza employees. In an innovative strategy, one operator uses battery powered flashing vests for employees who work in the toll lanes.
Another operator has adopted a new safety smock. The smock is light-weight, has short arms and is waist length. It is fluorescent yellow green with orange sections and retroreflective strips.
Another operator issues toll collectors a 3-in-1 coat. The coat is lined and fluorescent yellow green. The sleeves can be unzipped and removed for spring and fall and the lining unzips so that it is more vest-like in the summer.
One operator reported using a high visibility vest with five-point breakaway. The vests were ordered in response to news reports that vests would get caught on passing vehicles and workers were being dragged several hundred feet. The vests are fluorescent yellow green, are supplied to each employee and replaced as needed. The operator reported that the collectors provided input to management when the vests were being selected and the breakaway vest has received a positive response by employees.
Three operators reported that they are considering development of new uniforms that will have safety features built in, thereby eliminating the need for safety vests.
Lane Crossing Techniques
Employees of one operator use small, personal stop sign paddles that are utilized by both the employee crossing an active lane of traffic and the employee in the toll booth. The vehicle that is stopped at the toll booth is allowed to depart the plaza, but the stop paddle is directed at the vehicle behind so that it must remain stopped. This procedure was developed out of concern for potential rear end collisions.
Four operators reported using a ManSaver bar. The bars are placed at locations where employees must cross a toll lane. When entering the lane (going into danger), the employee must lift or pull back on the bar, when exiting a lane (going into safety) the bar is pushed. The bars force employees to stop before entering a toll lane and also serve as a reminder to look before crossing. One operator reported that employees would go around the bars so chains were installed to prevent them from avoiding the bars to cross the lanes.
Toll collectors for one operator use small bags to carry personal items with them out to the booths. This allows them to keep one hand free to operate the ManSaver bars. The bags also prevent collectors from dropping an item in the lane leaving them vulnerable to traffic while bending over to pick it up.
Two operators reported that employees are never allowed to cross active lanes of traffic. In fact, this is agency policy for one operator. The second operator reported that if an employee needs to cross a lane, it must first be shut down. Another operator, who has a dedicated police force, reported that the police escort toll collectors across toll lanes. This operator commented that in 42 years, an employee has never been hit while crossing a lane.
Signs Directed at Employees
Two operators reported using signs at toll lane crossings to remind employees to look before crossing. Both use specialized signs to mark ETC lanes so that employees can easily identify lanes where traffic does not stop. One operator uses signs to identify ETC lanes that read E- Z LOOK, with eyes drawn into LOOK and an arrow pointing in the direction of traffic. The signs are metal and mounted on the side of the bullnose facing in toward the lane at crossing locations. The same operator also uses red on white signs that read BE ALERT HIGH SPEED TRAFFIC.
Another operator uses signs that are installed on the backs of booths and read WARNING - EZ PASS TRAFFIC DOES NOT STOP.
Signs Directed at Motorists
Some operators are installing messages on signs and the pavement at the toll plaza to caution drivers about employees in the toll lanes. One operator has installed pedestrian crossing warning signs with flashing amber lights at the beginning of the toll island to caution drivers. Signs are also posted in holders on the front of the bullnose. One of the sign messages used is SLOW DOWN, PROTECT OUR WORKERS.
Another operator has a GIVE THEM 10 program that was started when ETC was introduced. The message is for drivers to slow down to 10 mph for the safety of toll plaza employees. White markings are installed in every lane each spring with the message 10 mph.
Toll booths at one toll facility were renovated 3 years ago in response to numerous occupational injuries. The booths are now more ergonomic and have light weight sit/stand stools, shelving to help keep things off the floor and fatigue mats. Ergonomic training has also been provided at this toll agency which has drastically reduced repetitive injury claims.
A second operator is in the process of collecting information to make changes to its toll booths to make them more ergonomic. Management is talking directly to toll collectors to obtain their input.
Another operator reported pumping pre-conditioned air into the toll booths to reduce fumes. The air is pumped up through the tunnel and into the booths.
Two operators reported that panic alarms are installed in toll booths so that collectors can call for help in an emergency situation. Two operators also reported that collectors are issued cell phones as an additional means of being able to communicate during emergencies. Operators reported no problems stemming from unauthorized use of agency-issued phones.
One operator reported that toll booths at their facility are bullet-resistant. This is to ensure employee safety, especially for collectors working at night.
Employee Safety Meetings
Three operators reported that regular employee safety meetings are conducted. One operator conducts daily meetings before and after each toll collector shift. Other operators conduct monthly or quarterly meetings. Most often the meetings are considered mandatory. In this instance, the meetings are held at different times of the day to allow each shift of toll collectors an opportunity to attend. Collectors either arrive for work 1 hour early or stay 1 hour late and are compensated with overtime pay.
One operator has select employees participate in quarterly meetings. There is one representative from each toll plaza that attends the quarterly meeting. S/he cannot be someone who has had an accident and s/he must also be assertive and able to identify and correct safety violations.
Operators reported that the topics of safety meetings include reminders about safety procedures for lane crossing and lane closing; procedures for handling robberies; procedures for emergency situations; information on preventing slips, trips and falls; information on stretches to prevent repetitive stress injuries; etc. Many times, safety concerns will be addressed. Several operators take the opportunity at scheduled meetings to review a recent incident and go over the proper steps employees should take to prevent a similar incident from occurring again.
Employee Safety Training
One operator reported that there is a State law that requires quarterly safety training. The training can take several forms such as a newsletter or spot training. While the law exists, the operator reported that there is no penalty for violating this law.
One operator provides refresher training once a quarter to all employees and three operators provide annual safety training. Operators reported that safety training includes information on safety procedures at toll plazas including lane crossing, lane closing, hazardous materials, emergency situations, robbery, proper attire, review of drug and alcohol policies, etc. One operator reported that safety training topics are based on injury statistics from the previous year.
Employee Safety Programs
Toll operators are using award programs as part of their strategy to reduce worker injuries at toll plazas. Most awards are presented annually. One operator presents a Plaza Award to a plaza where no one has been injured and a Turnpike Award to a turnpike that has had no employee injuries.
Another operator gives employees awards for preventing possible injuries. This same operator will also reprimand employees for not calling out safety concerns. For example, if one employee sees another employee crossing a lane without a vest and does not try to correct it, not only does the employee not wearing the vest receive a reprimand, but so does the employee that witnessed the violation and did not try to correct it. All employees are ordained as safety officers, even though that might not be their official title. The operator reported that employees are empowered to correct safety violations and report safety concerns.