New Jersey highway officials are cutting back on a plan designed to nab tractor-trailers trying to avoid E-ZPass tolls, with about three-quarters of the 380 cameras they intended to use being the latest casualty in a cost-cutting plan.
According to published reports, the E-ZPass project has been delayed time and time again, and officials have been struggling to come up with the funds to cover financial losses.
Officials added the extra cameras to the E-ZPass contract about a year ago at a cost of $7 million, saying the cameras were the most efficient way to catch big rigs cheating on the New Jersey Turnpike and the southern part of the Garden State Parkway. After reevaluating the plan, they’ve decided to save the state $5.1 million and only use 101 cameras.
Since $25 penalties paid by electronic toll violators are expected to pay four-fifths of the cost of the E-ZPass system, catching toll cheats is a big part of the program. The penalties could total up to about $500 million through 2008. Officials don’t know how much of the $400 million in penalties they are expecting to get from truckers, but insist that the camera cutback does not mean there will be a lack of enforcement or affect collections.
The E-ZPass program has been a stressed one from the get-go. Officials originally planned to install the equipment in all 683 toll booths on the Turnpike and Parkway, but later decided to leave 73 booths on the Turnpike and 40 on the Parkway without electronic tolls. They changed their minds again last month, when they decided to put E-ZPass in all Turnpike lanes but still were leaving the 40 Parkway booths without the system. Now they say they are likely to go ahead and install E-ZPass in those last 40 Parkway lanes.
E-ZPass is currently installed on the northern half of the Parkway, down through the Toms River toll plaza, and officials expect to have it operating on the entire Parkway, along with the Turnpike, starting Sept. 30. Mixed-use operation on the other highway booths should begin by June 2001, giving them the ability to cater to E-ZPass and cash-paying drivers.
The E-ZPass violations bureau says when it comes to cars and trucks, cameras that only catch the rears of the vehicles and record their license plate numbers as they pass through the booths are fine. For big rigs, however, officials concluded that they would need pictures of the front license plates of tractors they may not be pulling their own trailers. When large trucks pass through the toll booths, the "front-end" cameras activate electronically.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, considered heavy truck traffic areas, have front-end cameras at all 77 toll booths at its bridges and tunnels, but the front-end cameras planned for the Parkway are being tossed because officials say not enough trucks use the road.
Despite all the talk about front-end and rear-end cameras, officials at both highways said truckers are not likely to be significant E-ZPass toll cheats.