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March 03. 2014 10:03PM

Popularity of I-93 high-speed tolls spurs surge in EZ Pass use


E-ZPass participation has jumped since the open-road toll lanes opened on Interstate 93 in Hooksett last spring. (UNION LEADER FILE)


E-ZPass participation has risen dramatically since the open-road toll lanes opened a the Hooksett toll plaza on Interstate 93 last spring. UNION LEADER FILE 

HOOKSETT — Participation in the state's E-ZPass program has soared in the months since high-speed toll lanes opened in Hooksett, according to the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, the atate liquor stores in the new welcome centers at the Interstate 93 tolls are expected to open this fall, months ahead of schedule.

"We are extremely pleased with the Hooksett open-road tolling project," said Christopher M. Waszczuk, an administrator with the state's Turnpikes Bureau. "Traffic is more orderly, and travel through the plaza is more convenient for motorists traveling through the toll area."

Since open-road tolling (ORT) opened last May 23, traffic has increased by 2.5 percent at the Hooksett Mainline plaza, compared with the same period last year, according to figures provided by Waszczuk.

Use of E-ZPass has grown 4.5 percent over that same time.

In the six months after the ORT lanes opened, the number of new E-ZPass accounts increased by 78 percent over the same period last year, averaging more than 4,000 new accounts per month.

Over the same six-month time frame, sales of new transponders increased 50 percent over the same period in 2012, averaging more than 7,000 per month. The state distinguishes between the number of new E-ZPass accounts and the number of transponders because more than one transponder can be purchased with each account.

A transponder is the small device that signals the toll station electronically when a vehicle passes through. It is placed on the windshield behind the rear-view mirror.

"The growth of E-ZPass and the introduction of open-road tolling has allowed us to implement a Lean Staffing Initiative in toll operations, that has resulted in significant savings in personnel costs for toll collection," said Waszczuk.

In fiscal 2013, system-wide toll collection personnel costs were 20 percent lower than in fiscal 2011, for a savings of $2 million, he said. Projections for fiscal 2014 show costs 22 percent lower than in fiscal 2011, for a projected savings of $2.2 million, Waszczuk said.

Open-road tolling has been available for four years at the Hampton Toll Plaza on Interstate 95.

In 2013, the opening of new E-ZPass accounts increased by 51 percent over those in 2012 and 85 percent over those in 2011.

According to Waszczuk, the total number of E-ZPass accounts as of the end of December 2013 topped 327,000.

In 2013, the sale of transponders increased by 32 percent over those in 2012 and 70 percent over those in 2011.

The total number of transponders, as of the end of December 2013, topped 556,000. The DOT offers E-ZPass plans costing from $30 (including one or two transponders) to $60 (for three to four transponders).

The state liquor stores at the plaza are part of two new, full-service welcome centers that will include visitor information centers, 1950s-style diners, Italian farmhouse restaurants, old-time delis, breakfast shops, convenience stores and 20 gas pumps.

Under the terms of a 35-year lease with the state, Granite State Hospitality LLC is funding the design, construction, maintenance and operation of both the northbound and southbound service areas — with the exception of the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet stores, which the New Hampshire Liquor Commission will fund and operate.

Granite State Hospitality is a partnership between Alex Ray, founder of The Common Man restaurants, and Rusty McLear, co-owner and president of Mill Falls at the Lake in Meredith.

Under the updated schedule, Waszczuk said, the liquor store along I-93 north is expected to open in September; the store on the southbound side is projected to open in October. Waszczuk said the northbound and southbound welcome centers, with fuel and food concessions, are expected to be fully operational by January and February of 2015, respectively.

pfeely@unionleader.com


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