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Tolling

 

Strategies for Improving Safety at Toll Collection Facilities

Reducing Speeding

The Challenge

The introduction of ETC lanes, and particularly of high-speed ETC lanes, has introduced a new concern at plazas: speeding. Prior to the advent of ETC, every customer was required to come to a complete stop in order to collect a ticket or pay a toll. Now a good portion of customers are not required to stop at all, and in some cases, they are able to maintain near highway speeds while passing through a plaza.

Potential Mitigation Strategies

Vehicles speeding through plazas present an obvious safety concern for workers and, as a result, many agencies have implemented strategies specifically targeted at combating speeding.

Policies and Enforcement

Of the facilities visited by the team, those that reported having the lowest incidence of speeding were two agencies that had an aggressive automated enforcement program: the NYS Thruway and the PANY/NJ. Although there is no hard data to substantiate this observation, it seems plausible that their extensive automated speed enforcement programs may be the main success factor in keeping speeds under control at their plazas. Like most other agencies that have an automated enforcement program, cameras record violators and then the agency notifies violators by mail of the offense. What makes their program unique is that the agencies suspend ETC tags for a period of time for repeat or excessive violators, a practice that is particularly effective with trucking firms due to the toll discount associated with having a transponder.

Of those agencies that do have some form of automated enforcement, most choose to inform motorists that the toll plaza is photo enforced, and in most cases this is done with white on black regulatory signs.

Increasing enforcement presence at plazas is another way that some agencies combat speeding (Figures 22 and 23 show examples of how different agencies demonstrate enforcement to motorists). In fact, some agencies feel that it is critical to all safety programs - so much so that one workshop participant even noted that no strategy would be effective without a strong enforcement program. Increasing enforcement presence is obviously an easier feat for those agencies that have a dedicated police force or well established relationships with the local police force. Different tactics are used when enforcing traffic violations. In some cases police conduct speed enforcement using radar from their vehicle - either from the plaza parking lot or from the shoulder downstream of the plaza. 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. The police 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 agencies reported that the police will also park unmanned police cruisers at the plaza to assist with speed reduction.

Photograph of sign indicating that plaza is photo enforced.
Figure 22. Sign Notifying Motorists that Plaza Is Photo Enforced

Photograph of law enforcement officer watching traffic at a toll booth.
Figure 23. Enforcement Presence at an MTA Plaza

One agency reported that it has succeeded in reducing speeding by getting legislation passed that allows for doubled fines for speeding in toll areas. In this particular case, the legislation applies only to toll plazas where the speed at the plaza is reduced to 30 mph for ETC lanes. This agency has open road tolling where the speed limit is not reduced and increased fines for speeding do not apply at these areas.

Physical Treatments

Another measure that many agencies felt played a role in successfully controlling speeds - whether or not they were installed for this reason - was gates. Where gates are in use, all customers, including those with electronic payment, must wait for a gate to lift before proceeding through the plaza. Typically the gates lift automatically as an ETC vehicle approaches, so that ETC customers can proceed safely through the plaza without stopping as long as they maintain a reasonable speed - typically below 15 miles per hour. While effective in reducing speeds through toll plazas, doing so may be in contradiction with agency objectives to maximize throughput and mobility.

Some agencies have found it effective to use rumble strips or grooved pavement in the area just upstream of the plaza (typically in advance of the flare for the toll plaza) to draw motorists' attention to their speed and to provide toll collectors with an auditory warning that a vehicle is approaching (as shown in Figure 24).

Photograph of vehicle traversing rumble strips prior to toll booth.
Figure 24. Rumble Strips

Other Mitigation Strategies

Other observed speed mitigation strategies include:

  • Excessive speeds also affect first responders and maintenance workers, and many agencies expressed concern about this. The PANY/NJ has combated this by equipping its maintenance vehicles with partial red lights (i.e., amber on front, red on back) to give motorists the impression of enforcement presence. The agency believes that this has been successful in lowering speeds around incidents and maintenance work.
  • The NYS Thruway uses transverse pavement markings to lower speeds at one of its plazas (as shown in Figure 25). The transverse yellow pavement markings are spaced progressively closer together to give motorists the illusion that they are increasing speed even when they are maintaining a constant speed.

Photograph of brightly painted transverse pavement markings on the apporach to a toll plaza.
Figure 25. The Use of Transverse Pavement Markings to Reduce Speeding

  • Ensure that speed limits at plazas are consistent with nearby toll authorities.
  • Some agencies post speed limits at each lane as reminder to motorists as shown in Figure 26. This is especially helpful in situations where the speed limit varies by lane.

Two photographs of toll areas with one photo showing speed limit signs posted above a set of toll booths on the lane designation signs and one photo showing a speed limit sign mounted on a concrete barrier that separates two booths.
Figure 26. Speed Limits Are Posted at Each Lane To Reinforce Speed Limits

  • Some agencies have implemented a public outreach campaign targeting speeders. To do this cost-effectively, many agencies do this as part of their regular mailings to ETC customers. One agency has a program called "Give Them 10" that encourages motorists to maintain speeds below 10 mph in the vicinity of toll plazas.
  • To reinforce the speed limit, some agencies paint the speed limit on the pavement in advance of the plaza as shown in Figure 27.

Photograph of approach lanes to toll plaza painted with bright colors and indicating the speed limit.
Figure 27. Pavement Markings Reinforce the Speed Limit in Dedicated ETC Lanes

  • Some agencies have noticed a reduction in speeds after switching from advisory speed limit signs to regulatory speed limit signs.
  • Many agencies use temporary or permanent digital signs displaying real-time speeds of motorists. Some use these signs in the area upstream of the plaza while others use them at the plaza area itself.
Strategy Rankings, Effectiveness, and Constraints

Table 6 lists each strategy identified for mitigating safety challenges associated with speeding and provides comments from practitioners on strategy effectiveness and any concerns/constraints. The table also provides information on practitioner ranking results from the Toll Facility Safety Study Workshop.

Table 6. Potential Strategies to Mitigate Safety Challenges Associated with Speeding
Strategy Description Rankings from Workshop Participants and Comments on Effectiveness10 Concerns / Constraints
Policies and Enforcement
Implement an automated enforcement program. A number of agencies use a combination of an automated video enforcement system to identify violators and a program to issue warning letters and suspend ETC for repeat violators.
  • Anecdotally, sites that employ this technique seem to have the lowest incidence of speeding.
  • 16 out of the 20 workshop participants rated this strategy among the top 3 most effective strategies for reducing speeding.
  • Significant cost.
  • Legislation may make this prohibitive in some States.
  • Somewhat restrictive as most agencies are only able to revoke tags that they have issued.
Increase enforcement presence at plazas. Some agencies have increased enforcement presence in the vicinity of their plazas in an attempt to reduce speeds through the plaza. In many cases agencies report that even the presence of an unattended patrol car is quite effective.
  • 11 out of the 20 workshop participants rated this strategy among the top 3 most effective strategies for reducing speeding.
  • Several of the workshop participants spoke very highly of this strategy from their experience.
  • Can be costly depending on what arrangement the agency has with the police.
  • Some plazas may not have sufficient space downstream of the plaza to safely pull over offenders.
Double fines for speeding in toll areas. A number of agencies have worked to enact legislation allowing them to enforce double fines for speeding in toll areas.
  • 7 of 20 workshop participants rated this strategy among the top 3 most effective strategies for reducing speeding.
  • Must be accompanied by enforcement.
  • Not feasible in States where legislation does not allow agency to enforce speeds around plazas.
Physical Treatments
Install gates downstream of the plaza. Depending on the configuration, gates downstream of the plaza can help control speeds. In most cases the gates lift automatically as an ETC vehicle approaches, so ETC customers can proceed safely through the plaza without stopping as long as they maintain a reasonable speed – typically below 15 miles per hour.
  • Most workshop participants agreed that gates are an effective way of controlling speeds.
  • Not feasible at plazas where throughput is an issue.
  • Maintenance can be an issue as gates can be hit by inattentive motorists.
  • Inoperable gates can pose a safety hazard requiring toll collectors to exit their booth to lift the gate.
Install rumble strips or saw cuts in pavement upstream of the plaza. Rumble strips in advance of the plaza can be used to draw motorists' attention to their speed and can also provide toll collectors with an auditory warning that a vehicle is approaching.
  • Nine of 20 workshop participants selected this solution as a top three strategy. Six of those 9 participants selected it as the most effective solution.
  • One workshop participant reported that thermoplastic rumble strips are somewhat expensive and that there are associated maintenance costs, but that they are still worthwhile since they are so effective.
  • Noise can be an issue for nearby residents.
  • Plastic rumble strips can pose problems with snow plow operations.
Make maintenance vehicles more visible. The PANY/NJ has equipped its maintenance vehicles with red lights (i.e., amber on front, red on back) to give motorists the impression of enforcement presence.
  • May become less effective over time as motorists become accustomed to the markings.
  • Many state laws prohibit the use of red lights for anything other than emergency vehicles.
Other Mitigation Strategies
Install transverse pavement markings in advance of the plaza. Transverse yellow pavement markings with progressively closer spacing gives motorists the illusion that they are increasing speed when in fact they are traveling at a constant speed.
  • May become less effective over time as motorists become accustomed to the markings.
  • One workshop participant noted that the pavement markings may lead to further driver confusion in that they may make the lines separating lanes less visible.
Ensure that speed limits at plazas are consistent with nearby toll authorities. Some agencies have found that ensuring consistency in speed limits across agencies can help with speed limit compliance.
  • Most workshop participants felt that this is an important strategy as it maintains driver expectation.
  • May not work in areas where plaza configuration and traffic patterns are quite different from one plaza to another.
  • Interagency coordination can be critical to achieving this.
Post speed limits at each lane. Some agencies post speed limits at each lane to remind motorists of the speed limit.
  • Especially helpful at plazas where the speed limit varies by lane.
  • Sign overload was a concern expressed by some workshop participants.
Implement a public outreach campaign targeting speeders. Some agencies employ targeted outreach to their customers to remind them of the dangers of speeding through plazas. This can be done cost-effectively through mailers to ETC customers.
  • Was not selected by any workshop participants as among the top 3 most effective strategies for reducing speeding.
  • Can be costly depending on how it is done.
  • Difficult in areas with high tourist traffic.
Paint the speed limit on the pavement in advance of the plaza. Some agencies reinforce the speed limit by painting it on the pavement in advance of the plaza.
  • Several workshop participants noted that this is a cost-effective solution.
  • Mixed debate as to effectiveness. Some agencies who had tried this did not find it to be particularly effective while others found it to be quite effective.
  • Maintenance.
  • May not be as effective in areas where weather issue cause problems (i.e., sanding or snow plowing).
Use regulatory speed limit signs at plazas. Some agencies have found that changing speed limit signs from advisory to regulatory (black on white) has made a difference in speed limit compliance.
  • Was selected by only one workshop participants as among the top 3 most effective strategies for reducing speeding.
  • Must be accompanied by enforcement.
Use digital signs displaying real-time speeds at the plaza. Many agencies use temporary or permanent digital signs displaying real-time speeds to motorists. Some use these signs in the area upstream of the plaza while others use them at the plaza itself.
  • 6 out of the 20 workshop participants rated this strategy among the top 3 most effective strategies for reducing speeding.
  • Several participants noted that they had tried this and that it works. One noted that speeds in their agency’s ETC lanes were reduced by 1mph, and the other noted that they saw a 70 percent reduction in speeders. One agency uses this strategy in its express lanes only (where the speed limit is posted at 45 mph) and has found it to be very effective.
  • One workshop participant commented that their agency had tried a number of strategies, but it wasn’t until the “Your Speed” indicator signs were installed that there was a noticeable drop in the number of speeders.
  • Several participants noted that the signs are more effective when the agency uses temporary trailer-mounted signs and moves them around to different locations periodically.
  • Some agencies have experienced issues with motorists speeding up when these signs are present to see how high of a speed the sign will display.
  • Sign accuracy was a concern mentioned by a few workshop participants since motorists aren't always sure it is "their" speed that was shown.
  • Sign overload was a concern mentioned by a few workshop participants.
  • One workshop participant noted that placing the signs near a fixed speed limit sign caused confusion for motorists at their plaza.

10 Within this group of strategies, workshop participants were asked to select and rank the top three strategies that they believed to have the greatest potential to mitigate speeding.

More Information

Contact

Bryan Cawley
Office of Asset Management, Pavements, and Construction
202-366-1333
E-mail Bryan

 
 
Updated: 04/07/2011
 

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United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration