The Maine Turnpike Authority’s executive director and staff are recommending that the board of directors consider building a $36 million open-road toll plaza, including nine cash lanes, at an undetermined location north of the existing York toll plaza.

However, that won’t be the only option for handling tolls in York to be considered when the turnpike authority’s seven-member board holds a public hearing June 19 in Portland.

Open-road tolling allows drivers with E-ZPass transponders to pass through a toll plaza at highway speeds, while giving other drivers the option of paying cash. The new toll plaza in York, which needs approval from the board of directors, would be similar to the open-road toll plaza on Interstate 95 in Hampton, N.H.

Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, released a report Thursday that was developed by the agency’s consultant, CDM Smith of North Yarmouth. It concludes that an all-electronic tolling system would not be financially feasible for the York toll plaza or at any location along the 111-mile highway.

That is bad news for residents in York, who have steadfastly supported keeping the existing plaza and operating it as all-electronic, with no vehicles stopping.

“If they think that the people of York are going to roll over, we’re not very likely to,” said Selectman Torbert Macdonald. “Many people have said, ‘Over my dead body.’ ”

Macdonald said about 1,000 people attended a public hearing four years ago when the turnpike authority proposed construction of a new toll plaza. The meeting, which started around 5 p.m., ended at 1:30 a.m.

Residents have opposed any taking of land for a new toll plaza, and expressed concerns about exhaust from vehicles stopped at tollbooths.

All-electronic tolling eliminates the need for toll collectors and allows drivers to pass through a plaza at highway speeds. For drivers without E-ZPass transponders, cameras would take photographs of their license plates so they could be billed.

“I can’t say that we are in a rush to get this done,” Mills said Thursday night, referring to the long period of time – about two years – that it took to complete the analysis. “I wanted to do it right, rather than fast.”

Mills said he and his staff remain open to suggestions, but the CDM Smith analysis doesn’t leave the authority with many options.

An all-electronic tolling system in York would only confuse drivers, who would still stop and pay tolls at other turnpike exits, according to the report.

“It would create a very tortured environment for customer relations,” Mills said. “But I’m not saying that it would be impossible.”

An all-electronic toll plaza would cost about $4.8 million, and the report says about 40 percent of all tolls would remain uncollected.

New Brunswick, for example, refuses to share drivers’ addresses with the Maine Turnpike Authority, Mills said, so the turnpike authority couldn’t bill some drivers.

The report also says an all-electronic toll plaza would cost more to operate because of the staffing that would be needed to bill drivers. To recover those expenses, the consultant recommends doubling the toll in York to $6.

The consultant predicts that would prompt thousands of drivers to use Route 1 as an alternative, which could exacerbate traffic congestion in coastal York County towns.

Tolls collected at the York plaza account for 38 percent of the turnpike authority’s revenues.

Another possibility raised in the report is to install new electronic traffic sensors at the existing York toll plaza, which was built in 1969. The turnpike authority says the computer and software that support its E-ZPass toll plazas are obsolete and must be replaced.

Mills said the analysis shows that option has a big drawback. The plaza, built on clay, rests on piles and has been sinking about 1 inch per year.

The turnpike authority is phasing in an Infinity sensor system, with antenna loops set in concrete. Each loop classifies the type of vehicle passing through a toll so the correct amount can be charged. To work effectively over time, the loops must be set in a rigid pad on stable ground, something that would be difficult to maintain on the site in York.

“The York plaza is set in the middle of a swamp,” said Ron Nowell, chairman of the York Board of Selectmen. “It was like putting a tollbooth in the middle of the Everglades.”

Nowell, who has lived in York all his life, said the town is opposed to taking any individual’s property to allow for a new toll plaza.

“I don’t think the town will react well (to a new plaza). They will be incensed,” he said.

Randy Small, a member of the local group Think Again, which supports an all-electronic toll system at the current toll plaza site, said, “Our whole point is we should keep the plaza where it is. … There is no need to take land from anyone.”

Mills said the turnpike authority has no plans to take anyone’s home for a new toll plaza, but something must be done about the aging York structure.

“We don’t have a choice to do nothing,” he said.

The board of directors will hold a public hearing June 19 on the toll plaza options at turnpike authority headquarters, 2360 Congress St. in Portland. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:[email protected]

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