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Turnpike Info: 877-682-9433
 

York Toll Plaza Replacement

     
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What is latest on this project?

After 10+ years of work and process, the long-awaited high-speed tolling plaza in York is fully designed, funded, and ready to break ground.  The project has received all required permits from federal and state environmental agencies after they determined that the proposed plaza at Mile 8.8 has only minimal environmental impacts and is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.  The proposed state-of-the-art plaza will be safer, reduce air emissions, reduce noise, is located in a wooded area with few homes in the vicinity, and did not require taking of property by eminent domain.  In summary, the new plaza will have less local impact, and will be a huge improvement for millions of Turnpike travelers and the entire State of Maine.
Despite its benefits and low impacts, the project continues to be delayed due to opposition from within the Town of York.  It is anticipated that their latest challenges will be properly disallowed by officials in the spring of 2018, and the $40 + million, 3-year project will be put out for competitive construction bids soon thereafter.
 

Related Documents 

Permits Issued:
York Permit Applications:
Other Permitting Related Materials:  
Materials Related to Toll Collection Methodology:
Documents pertaining to Jacobs Review of Current Plaza - Mile 7.3: 

 
Documents pertaining to Selection of the Mile 8.8 Site:

    
Archival Records
 

Frequently Asked Questions


Overall, what is the status of this project?

This critically-needed project is ready-to-go.  After 10+ years of work, this $40 million project at the gateway to Maine will finally bring safe and efficient highway speed tolling to a new site at Mile 8.8 in York.  Federal and state regulatory agencies have granted all required environmental permits.  In doing so, the agencies found that the project has only minimal environmental impacts and that the proposed Open Road Tolling (ORT) plaza - which has highway speed center lanes and cash lanes to the right similar to what exists now on I-95 in Hampton, New Hampshire - is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.

Despite this, a group of York citizens and the York Board of Selectmen continue to oppose any alternative that relocates the toll plaza from the current site at Mile 7.3.  In October of 2017, the Town of York appealed the granting of permits by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MaineDEP) to Maine Superior Court.  Although the project legally could go out to bid now, the Town asked, and the MTA Board voluntarily agreed, to wait until the conclusion of the Superior Court process.

The latest and only remaining reason for opposition from York is their opinion that All Electronic Tolling (AET) is the proper way to collect tolls.  AET eliminates the option to pay cash at roadside toll booths and replaces it with a back office “pay-by-mail” system that attempts to collect tolls using license plate images.  AET does not work for this project due to the Turnpike’s customer mix – which includes huge numbers of out-of-state and other one-time users without an E-ZPass.  This customer mix means that AET would cause huge numbers of free riders.  Up to 6 in 10 out-of-state non-E-ZPass customers would not pay their way at York if AET were implemented.  This would cause millions in lost revenue, higher tolls, and traffic diversion.  In the end, the MTA decided that raising tolls to compensate for out-of-states who don’t pay, and causing traffic headaches off the Turnpike in the process, is just not fair or prudent.

During the voluntary delay for the pending Superior Court appeal, a state representative from York submitted a bill that would essentially overrule the environmental agencies’ well-reasoned findings on a political level, despite the pending judicial appeal.

Looking forward, it is expected that the court will uphold the MaineDEP’s granting of the permits and that the Legislature will reject the bill in the spring of 2018.  This will allow the project to proceed to construction in 2018.  The project is phased over three years to minimize traffic disruption, which means travelers should be enjoying the safety and convenience of highway speed tolling in 2021.

More background and details on this important project are contained in the answers to the questions below.

 

Why is this project needed?

The York Toll Plaza is one of the most important pieces of transportation infrastructure in the State.  It is the gateway to Maine, generates about $56 million in toll revenue per year, and is a central reason why two-thirds of all MTA revenue is paid by out-of-staters. 
 
The existing plaza and toll system is old and desperately needs replacing and modernization.  It was originally designed in the 1960’s as a temporary barrier plaza for all vehicles to stop to take tickets and pay tolls.  It has approaches sinking into clay soils, is surrounded by wetlands, has a leaking tunnel full of electrical components, and has outdated toll equipment held together with used parts.  Further, it is located on a curve, at the bottom of a hill, near an interchange and overpass, which raises safety concerns.  It was built before current environmental rules were in place.  If those rules existed then, it would not exist there. 
 
Moreover, the current plaza does not provide the modern, open, highway speed electronic tolling that travelers now expect and deserve.  The current old plaza is simply a terrible first impression for new visitors to our great state.  For all these reasons, the MTA has been working to deliver this project to all of Maine for over ten years.

What is the plan for the replacement toll plaza?

The project plan is to build a state-of-the-art ORT plaza at Mile 8.8 on a straight stretch at the crest of a hill surrounded by woods about 1 ½ miles north of the existing barrier plaza.  The project also includes a new administration building, an access road, and a tunnel beneath the plaza for safe passage of workers and for electrical equipment and other utilities.  The old barrier plaza at Mile 7.3, and the associated old administration building and access road will be demolished or removed, which will add green space to this low wet area.

ORT plazas have highway speed center lanes and cash lanes to the right like what exists now on I-95 in Hampton, New Hampshire.  But this plaza will be even better, because it will have three high speed E-ZPass lanes in each direction, not two like Hampton.

Design plans are complete.  All federal and state environmental permits have been granted after the agencies found that the project has only minimal environmental impacts and is the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.  The project requires no taking of property by eminent domain, and there are no significant impacts to the four houses located within 1,000 feet of the project.

The total cost of the project is estimated at about $40 million.  Funding is in place.  Like all MTA projects and activities, this funding is derived solely from Turnpike users.  No federal, state or local tax dollars are being used.

In summary, the project is ready-to-go.

Given the project need and readiness, why hasn't construction started?

The project has been delayed due to opposition from within the Town of York.   A local opposition group and the York Board of Selectmen (YBOS) have opposed any relocation of the toll plaza from the current site at Mile 7.3.

The YBOS laid out its position in a letter to the MTA dated May 20, 2014.  See link.  In it, the BOS first recognized that All Electronic Tolling (AET) was “unfeasible at present”.  The YBOS then encouraged the MTA “to pursue the engineering studies necessary prove the viability of an ORT plaza at the current location of the York Plaza,” warning that “all other options will be strenuously opposed.”

The MTA agreed, and contracted with another experienced and well-respected engineering firm, Jacobs (www.Jacobs.com), to take a fresh look at what it would take to build an ORT plaza near the existing toll plaza at Mile 7.3.  In early 2015, after much analysis, Jacobs determined that although it is technically possible to build an ORT plaza at Mile 7.3, it would have significant safety and operational drawbacks, more environmental impacts, and would cost much more than other locations.

What makes the permitted site at Mile 8.8 superior?

The Mile 8.8 site is superior in terms of safety, operations, impacts, constructability and cost.
  • Safety and Operations.  The Mile 8.8 site is safer and more efficient because it is located on a straight section at the crest of a hill, away from interchanges and has good visibility for approaching vehicles.  There would be less braking, confusion and weaving there, and thus fewer accidents and less noise.  Further, all lanes would be used more fully, thus easing congestion.
  • Environmental Impact.  Mile 8.8 has about 80% less wetland and stream impact than Mile 7.3.
  • Constructability.  Mile 8.8 is easier to build.  The Mile 7.3 site would cause much more disruption to travelers and toll collectors, and would cause significant toll revenue losses due to diversion.
  • Landowner Impacts.  The Mile 8.8 site does not displace any home or require use of eminent domain.  In fact, there are only 4 houses within 1,000 feet of the proposed project at Mile 8.8, compared to 47 houses within 1,000 feet of a proposed project at Mile 7.3.  And it will generate less noise.
  • Cost.  Mile 8.8 would cost about $20 million less than Mile 7.3.
Environmental rules require that the least environmentally damaging practicable alternative be selected. The MTA and the permitting agencies found that the planned Mile 8.8 project is that alternative.

So why is the Town still opposing the project?

Because they continue to oppose any relocation of the plaza.

After it became clear that the Mile 7.3 was inferior as an ORT plaza site, the Town revisited their position on how tolls should be collected.  The Town, after hiring a lawyer, now argues that AET can work, even though they called it “unfeasible” in May 2014.  Their current theory is that because AET has no toll booths, the already low environmental impacts of the proposed ORT plaza would be slightly less, so regulators must deny the permits.  Although some find it a little odd that project opponents can challenge a thoroughly considered decision on how to properly collect tolls in environmental permit proceedings, that is the Town’s only remaining argument, and it assumes that AET can work. 

It cannot.  AET is simply not practicable for this application.  After multiple expert studies, extensive permit submissions, and a day-long hearing on this very issue, all have found that AET is not practicable. 

Why is AET wrong for this project?

Although every situation is different, the basic reason AET will not work for this project is that the Turnpike’s customer base at York includes huge numbers of out-of-state and other one-time users without an E-ZPass.  This translates to too many free riders and unfairness for those that do pay.  Tolls would have to be raised on to make up for the millions in lost revenue, which would cause diversion of traffic onto other state roads and snarl traffic. 

It is important to know that AET is not “all electronic” at all.  It is a “pay by mail” process that is relatively cumbersome, expensive, and ineffective for this application.  Even with the best technology, AET simply shifts employees from roadside toll booths to back office cubicles staring at a rapid fire images of license plates.  If the plate image is unobstructed and readable, it requires that States share data bases and that addresses are up-to-date.  When bills are sent, some people simply won’t pay, and it does not make sense to pay too much to try to collect so little, especially for infrequent users like tourists.  All this adds up to revenue losses.  For example, up to 6 in 10 out-of-state non-E-ZPass customers would get a free ride at York if AET were implemented.  Overall, almost half of cash revenue today would is lost, amounting to millions of dollars every year.  To compensate for the lost revenue from free riders, the MTA would be forced double the York non-E-ZPass toll from $3 to $6.  The higher tolls caused by AET would divert thousands of vehicles onto already busy state roads (Routes 1, 236, 109/9 and 4), causing more traffic headaches for ten southern Maine towns.

Further, some travelers simply want or need to pay cash at the point of service.  Some have privacy concerns with E-ZPass, and some do not have a banking relationship needed for E-ZPass (often lower income people or immigrants).

So there is much to consider in deciding how to properly collect tolls.  Simply arguing that Maine should “follow Massachusetts” is not a reasoned decision.  And although Massachusetts and New York have decided that their situations are different, one should remember that the vast majority of toll miles in the U.S. still have a roadside cash collection.
 
In the end, raising tolls to compensate for out-of-states and others who don’t pay their way, and causing traffic headaches off the Turnpike in the process, just does not make sense.  That is why the MTA, all tolling experts involved (including the firm that worked for Massachusetts), and state and federal regulators have all found that ORT is the only practicable way to implement high-speed tolling for this project.

What is the timeline for this project?

As noted above, the project is permitted and could have gone out to bid in 2017.  However, in October of 2017, the Town of York appealed the granting of permits by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MaineDEP) to Maine Superior Court.  The Town asked, and the MTA Board voluntarily agreed, to delay the project until the conclusion of the Superior Court process.

During this voluntary delay period, a state representative from York submitted a bill that would require the MTA to use AET, despite the agency findings that it is not practicable, and despite the pending judicial appeal.  In this way, it appears that some in York hope that political influence will overrule the reasoned judgments made by the MTA and the regulators.  Given the almost universal support for the project outside of York, that appears unlikely.

Accordingly, it is expected that the court will uphold the granting of the permits and that the Legislature will reject the bill in the spring of 2018.  This will allow the project to proceed to bidding and construction by summer 2018.  Planned as phased, 3-year project to minimize traveler disruption, the MTA anticipates that Turnpike travelers will be enjoying the safety and convenience of the new ORT facility in 2021.

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