Even taken on its own, the new open-road tolling system promises to have an impact on millions of drivers, perhaps on par with the introduction of E-ZPass lanes more than two decades ago.
“This project is a transformative investment in our future that revolutionizes statewide transportation,” Mr. Cuomo said when he announced the plan. He pushed for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which is controlled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to complete the conversion by the end of this year. It is already in place at seven of the nine crossings controlled by the authority.
The new system affects almost all of the 800,000 drivers who use the authority’s crossings every weekday, and who pay tolls ranging from $1.41 to $17. While it is not expected to cure bumper-to-bumper traffic, it does promise to improve things: Under the old system, about 250 vehicles could pass through the E-ZPass booths per hour; about 850 cars can zip through the new system in the same amount of time.
It would seem that an idea aimed at ridding roads of tollbooths would be an easy sell. But like anything new, it has been met with resistance and skepticism by some.
When Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey first took office in 2010, his transition team suggested installing cashless tolls across the state. But after a toll hike put in place by his predecessor proved deeply unpopular, the plan was shelved.
Since then, state leaders have raised a variety of concerns, including fear that those who do not have E-ZPass and are sent bills by mail will not pay.
That resistance is part of the reason the Port Authority, which is jointly operated by New York and New Jersey, has not made plans to install the new technology on the crossings it controls, such as the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln Tunnel.
Joe Gugliero, the director of tolling systems at the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, said that those fears have been proven unfounded, in part because of new penalties that were put in place to discourage scofflaws.
Mr. Cuomo also ordered 150 State Police troopers to the city’s bridges and tunnels starting in January to go after drivers who rack up lots of unpaid tolls.
Mr. Gugliero, who has been working on the effort for years, gets most excited when talking about the technology that allows the system to work.
Seated in a darkened conference room at the authority’s headquarters on Randalls Island, he explained step-by-step, slide-by-slide, just how the system works.
Essentially, an array of lasers, cameras and sensors are hung from a span that stretches across the roadway. They not only capture license plates and read E-ZPass tags, but can tell the vehicle type and size by using infrared scanners. Since tolls are based on the number of axles a vehicle has, there are also magnetic sensors embedded in the concrete that detect the steel tread in tires, allowing software to determine the number of axles.
A short walk from the headquarters, on the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, formerly the Triborough Bridge, Mr. Gugliero watched as cars sped through the sensors, noting how small a footprint the scaffolding for the system needs – making it a feasible option for tighter roadways like the West Side Highway and the F.D.R. Drive.
But he said congestion pricing and politics were for others to discuss. He was visibly proud to have played a part in taking one of life’s little annoyances and making it easier. Drivers will still pay tolls. But perhaps they will be a bit less bothered.