Dear EarthTalk: Has the use of E-ZPass and similar programs to facilitate faster highway toll-paying cut down on traffic jams and therefore tailpipe pollution? Why do we need tolls at all?--Dianne Comstock, New York, NY
Yes, E-ZPass and similar programs have been a boon to both participating drivers and the environment by reducing or eliminating idling and traffic back-ups at toll booths. Maybe that's why 25 U.S. states either participate in E-ZPass or have their own similar systems (FasTrak in California, EXpressToll in Colorado, SunPass in Florida, etc.) to speed up highway travel and reduce pollution.
A study conducted in 2000 to evaluate the New Jersey Turnpike Authority 's E-ZPass electronic toll collection system found that toll plaza delay had been reduced by about 85 percent overall for a total savings of more than two million vehicle-hours per year. Passenger car drivers saved a total of 1.8 million hours per year, while truckers saved almost 300,000 hours. The system's "reduced queuing" decreased overall fuel consumption on the state's turnpike system by some 1.2 million gallons per year and cut emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)--a key component of smog--by 0.35 tons per day.
Maryland's Department of Transportation is about to take the concept a step further by installing express toll lanes along the a congested eight mile stretch of Interstate 95 north of Baltimore. Once the project is complete, drivers will be able to either zip through the express lanes to pay an electronically collected toll, or save their money and instead suffer through the congestion in the free, general-purpose lanes.
The toll amount will vary depending on the time of day and traffic conditions and will be assessed automatically via existing E-ZPass transponders or by photo capture of drivers' license plates. Unlike existing E-ZPass-type systems in the U.S., there will be no penalty or fine for entering the express toll lane without a transponder--a bill for the toll will just be mailed to the address on file with the car's registration. The new...