YORK — Earlier this month, a car carrying four people crashed into the Hampton toll plaza just across the border in New Hampshire as its driver tried to switch payment lanes. One of the passengers died and the other three people in the car were seriously hurt.

This was a stark reminder of why I am pushing to make all new collection in Maine use all-electronic tolling.

What I mean by this is that all toll collection in Maine would eventually be done by having your car identified and billed automatically, either through an E-ZPass transponder or, if you don’t have one, by having a photograph of your plate taken and being billed by mail. The only structure required is a gantry over the highway.

Maine would not be the first state to adopt this technology, but we can benefit from the experience of states that have gone before us. All-electronic tolling has been shown to be safer, have less impact on the environment and be less expensive to build and operate than traditional toll facilities.

The Legislature is in its second session, which means all bills that come before us must be emergency legislation. My bill, L.D. 1779, was accepted as emergency legislation because the Maine Turnpike Authority is due to construct a major new toll plaza at the southern end of the turnpike without using all-electronic tolling technology.

What is being proposed for the York plaza is a hybrid system, such as the turnpike authority operates in New Gloucester, which would have both high-speed lanes and manned toll booths. This is known as open-road tolling, and it’s the type of plaza where the lane-changing fatal accident occurred in New Hampshire.

I submitted this bill because I believe that the public has a right to weigh in before a $40 million toll plaza, which would require a major construction project at our gateway and uses outdated technology, is built. Building an all-electronic tolling plaza, by contrast, would cost an estimated $5 million to $6 million and ensure that Maine is using the most up-to-date technology, and will bring with it a safer and smoother-flowing Maine Turnpike.

More than just the one plaza is at stake here. My bill would eventually make high-speed, drive-through toll collection the norm at all toll facilities in Maine. A growing number of states are moving to eliminate staffed toll plazas in favor of all-electronic systems, including Massachusetts, which eliminated cash-taking altogether on the Massachusetts Turnpike last year. New York will do so in the near future and New Hampshire has a similar bill pending in its Legislature. My bill would not take this step all at once, but would gradually phase out the manned booths as new toll plazas are built and old ones rebuilt.

I have heard concerns about Maine workers who may be put out of a job because of this automation, and I share those concerns. Other states who have moved to all-electronic tolling have made targeted efforts to transition affected workers into different positions within their public transportation systems. In Massachusetts, this was done by retraining the workers and transitioning them into the jobs required to bill those who don’t have transponders. I would push for the same devotion to Maine Turnpike Authority employees.

My bill is due for a public hearing Tuesday before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, and I’m thrilled that members of the public and Legislature can weigh in to make this change a reality.

It’s time to prioritize the safety of our highways and implement modern technology that other states have already capitalized on.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Legislature on this bill in the months ahead.

— Special to the Press Herald