York selectmen are expected to vote Monday to hire a consultant that specializes in electronic toll collection to study an alternative to divisive plans for replacing the York toll plaza on the Maine Turnpike.

The study would provide a counterpoint to the Maine Turnpike Authority’s proposals, which favor developing a new plaza nearby. The goal is to replace the aging and obsolete barrier that is sinking into wetlands and is considered a safety hazard at the gateway to Maine.

The authority’s board is expected to vote Tuesday to submit a report with its proposals to the Army Corps of Engineers for review.

Technically, the report includes options to do nothing, and to rebuild on the current site. But the authority has made it clear in public comments that it prefers a new plaza at one of two locations north of the current site.

Those options, which would cost $34 million to $35 million, would allow E-ZPass customers to pay their tolls at highway speeds and shunt cash customers to traditional booths.

York officials and a well-organized group of residents have been fighting the relocation efforts, which in earlier versions would have taken nearby homes.


More recently, opponents have said the authority’s plans are out of step with evolving technology and highway planning. They say the current plaza should be converted to cashless, all-electronic tolling. That would require fewer lanes, reduce environmental damage and cost less than $15 million, they say. They hope the consultant’s study will support that approach.

”It’s unfortunate it has come to this,” said Michael Estes, chair of York’s selectmen. ”But they’ve got their feet dug in, and we’ve got our feet dug in. And we can’t find compromise.”

The selectmen are expected to hire Atlanta-based eTrans Group Inc., which has consulted on toll systems in Georgia, Toronto and Puerto Rico. The town has budgeted $15,000 for the study, which Estes said should take a month.

Electronic tolling isn’t new. In New England, the Maine Turnpike is actually a pioneer in cashless tollbooths. About six in 10 drivers use E-ZPass on the highway.

The turnpike authority and its adversaries disagree on how long it will take to convert the other 40 percent of drivers, and how to collect money in the interim at an all-electronic plaza.

The authority says the transition could take 20 years, and in the meantime it would hurt revenues and cost money to chase down motorists — especially out-of-state tourists — who ride through without paying.


Opponents of a new plaza say the electronic conversion would be much faster. They also say the authority could do more to market E-ZPass and create incentives for drivers to get it.

The turnpike authority says those assumptions are unrealistic. Years of conflict with the town and residents have forced planners to give this project more scrutiny than virtually any other proposed recently, the authority says.

”We’ve made a lot of accommodations and adjustments,” said Dan Paradee, the authority’s public affairs manager. ”But we feel pretty comfortable with the data.”

That data will be at the heart of the review by federal regulators. By law, the Army corps looks for approaches that cause the least environmental damage.

The authority expects to submit its information by early March, Paradee said. The Army corps might take a few months to review the proposals and make suggestions that would lead to a more detailed study. Those suggestions, Paradee said, could be influenced by the town’s study.

If the turnpike wins approval to build something, construction would begin no sooner than 2012, he said.



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