Pennsylvania Turnpike road trip, plus I-83

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MARC Rider

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I had to go up to central Pennsylvania last week. I haven't been up there for a couple of years, just a few notes on the drive.

They widened the Turnpike to 6 lanes between Carlise and the Blue Mountain tunnel. I'm not sure why they did that, as there's not more traffic in that section than in the section to the east, which does pass by Harrisburg, the state capital. The section west of Carlise has no significant grades, not does it pass by any heavily populated areas. Your toll dollars at work? Not that I'm complaining as a driver, the road was empty and very pleasant to drive, even sharing it with the 18-wheelers.

They're doing some kind of construction work on the Tuscarora Mountain tunnel. On the ride out, they closed on of the tubes, so it was 2 lanes through the tunnel, sort of a flashback to my 1968 bus trip out with the Boy Scouts, except that there was little traffic this time, and we breezed right through. On the drive back, both tubes were open, and there was no construction going on. Any information about the project, what they are doing and when we can expect it to be done?

On the way out, we had some stiff headwinds. They chopped about 10-15% off my fuel economy.

The EZ-Pass system seems to be working differently than the last time I drove the Turnpike. For one thing, they specify 5 mph through the lane rather than 10 mph. I think most people blow through at higher speed. Instead of a green light that reassures you that the system correctly read your transponder, there's nothing, except a flash that suggests they're taking a picture of your license plate. Does that mean my transponder is not recognized and I can expect a ticket with penalty in the mail, or is this just a routine transaction? Personally, I don't see why they need to take a picture of every car that passes through, that seems a little to much like creepy Stasi-style surveillance. All they really need to know is whether you've made a valid toll payment.

Say what you will about the Turnpike, it's a breeze to drive compared to I-83 between Harrisburg and just south of York. I wish they could have transferred some of that money that they used for the necessary (in my opinion) extra lanes to making some real improvements on I-83. Mainly to redo the exit ramps and put in acceleration and deceleration lanes. Also, it might be nice to have some space between the edge of the left lane and the jersey barrier. And, of course, the pavement is rough in places and needs to be redone. And that interchange at Mt. Rose Road in York, that's still being dug up, and I remember that they were digging that up 5 or 10 years ago. What are they doing there and how long is it going to take to finish the job? Also, the speed limit might be 65 mph (except going around York), but if you get stuck behind an 18-wheeler going up a stiff grade (and there are lots of stiff grades on this route), you will drop to 50 or maybe even slower.

That road has some serious traffic, aside from fixing the road to meet modern interstate standards, it would probably really be helpful to build some kind of rail line to connect Harrisburg, York, and Baltimore. Of course, it will be real expensive to build because of the hilly terrain, and the fact that the old railroad route (now a popular rail-trail) doesn't pass through the built-up area anymore, and so wouldn't be as useful as a route that parallels I-83 more closely.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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They widened the Turnpike to 6 lanes between Carlise and the Blue Mountain tunnel. I'm not sure why they did that, as there's not more traffic in that section than in the section to the east, which does pass by Harrisburg, the state capital. The section west of Carlise has no significant grades, not does it pass by any heavily populated areas. Your toll dollars at work? Not that I'm complaining as a driver, the road was empty and very pleasant to drive, even sharing it with the 18-wheelers.
My understanding is they will triple lane the whole Turnpike, just had to start someplace.

They're doing some kind of construction work on the Tuscarora Mountain tunnel. On the ride out, they closed on of the tubes, so it was 2 lanes through the tunnel, sort of a flashback to my 1968 bus trip out with the Boy Scouts, except that there was little traffic this time, and we breezed right through. On the drive back, both tubes were open, and there was no construction going on. Any information about the project, what they are doing and when we can expect it to be done?
Not sure but the roof was down, would think it the same battle to prevent leaks, and or a start to widen the tunnels.

The EZ-Pass system seems to be working differently than the last time I drove the Turnpike. For one thing, they specify 5 mph through the lane rather than 10 mph. I think most people blow through at higher speed. Instead of a green light that reassures you that the system correctly read your transponder, there's nothing, except a flash that suggests they're taking a picture of your license plate. Does that mean my transponder is not recognized and I can expect a ticket with penalty in the mail, or is this just a routine transaction? Personally, I don't see why they need to take a picture of every car that passes through, that seems a little to much like creepy Stasi-style surveillance. All they really need to know is whether you've made a valid toll payment.
There are taken a picture of your plate, your EZ-Pass will not cause any sign that you payed your bill. Your notice of payment due for toll skip will be your sign of a problem.

Say what you will about the Turnpike, it's a breeze to drive compared to I-83 between Harrisburg and just south of York. I wish they could have transferred some of that money that they used for the necessary (in my opinion) extra lanes to making some real improvements on I-83.
Deferent source of funds.
Mainly to redo the exit ramps and put in acceleration and deceleration lanes. Also, it might be nice to have some space between the edge of the left lane and the jersey barrier.
Thats the plan just don’t hold your breath.
And, of course, the pavement is rough in places and needs to be redone. And that interchange at Mt. Rose Road in York, that's still being dug up, and I remember that they were digging that up 5 or 10 years ago. What are they doing there and how long is it going to take to finish the job? Also, the speed limit might be 65 mph (except going around York), but if you get stuck behind an 18-wheeler going up a stiff grade (and there are lots of stiff grades on this route), you will drop to 50 or maybe even slower.
Slow moving truck, small block engine, with a computer set up for fuel saving. All the rage now.
That road has some serious traffic, aside from fixing the road to meet modern interstate standards, it would probably really be helpful to build some kind of rail line to connect Harrisburg, York, and Baltimore. Of course, it will be real expensive to build because of the hilly terrain, and the fact that the old railroad route (now a popular rail-trail) doesn't pass through the built-up area anymore, and so wouldn't be as useful as a route that parallels I-83 more closely.
Highways are not cheap. Ohio is triple lane there network, into they ran out of money.
 

railiner

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Love driving the “historic” Pennsylvania Turnpike. America’s first super-highway.
My first trip across it was also on a bus, in 1968...a Continental Trailways Eagle.

As for photographing license plates...
perhaps that is in preparation for eliminating toll collectors entirely, and automating toll collection, as other toll roads have?
 

ehbowen

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Love driving the “historic” Pennsylvania Turnpike.
As for photographing license plates...
perhaps that is in preparation for eliminating toll collectors entirely, and automating toll collection, as other toll roads have?
Perhaps. Of course, it could also be in preparation for...

Papers Please Meme.jpg
 

MARC Rider

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As for photographing license plates...
perhaps that is in preparation for eliminating toll collectors entirely, and automating toll collection, as other toll roads have?
I actually didn't see any toll collectors. But it was a cold night, and I was using EZ Pass. Harrisburg West has special EZPass lanes with no toll collectors. They have some open road tolling at the west end of the Turnpike for through travelers with EZ Pass.

But why do they need to take a picture of my license tag? I have a transponder, that should be enough to verify payment. In fact, when I rent a car, I have to register the rental car with my EZ Pass account. The only legitimate reason I can see is that they want to make sure that you're using the transponder for the vehicle type specified. It would seem to be that they could deply some kind of pattern recognition AI to ensure that you get charged for the correct vehicle type. It seems to me that the transponder should be more like a credit card, just for payment, not a tool to see what specific cars are on the road.

By the way, I just checked my EZ Pass account, and, no problem, I was charged correctly for the tolls, so I have now properly subsidized my free senior-citizen SEPTA rides when I visit Philadelphia. :)
 

Just-Thinking-51

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They have been taken pictures of your plate for some time. Only now the toll booths are taken them with a flash bulb.

While you have EZ Pass not everyone one does. The Tags can fail, and are updated occasionally too.

Original EZ-Pass member here, back when it was just for commuters going to Albany.

The purpose is recovery fees for using the road.

Mass Turnpike does not even have toll collection anymore. If you don’t have a transponder they bill to your plate number. Still trying to figure out how, and when my rental truck (U-Haul) will be charged after a trip to CT.

Store will track your visit using your cell phone. See where you go, and how long you stop at various locations.

Welcome to our society.
 

fairviewroad

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Some plazas along the PA Turnpike are already cashless (i.e. no toll collectors). The Turnpike says the entire road will be cashless by the fall of 2021.

Here's a press release on the Tuscorara Tunnel work.
 

Palmland

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One of my pet peeves is the inability of all states to work together to integrate their toll systems. EZ Pass seems to be the most comprehensive but it (or something similar) should be valid nationwide. In fact, why not have the transponder built into new autos, like Sirius/xm?
 
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VAtrainfan

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My sister's family live in York, that drive up I-83 from Baltimore is by far the worst part of the 6-hour drive from Norfolk. It's been 15 years since they moved up there, and that road has been under perpetual construction and hasn't gotten any better. It's a big reason why I rarely drive it anymore, and take Amtrak to Lancaster instead. The train takes 4 more hours than driving (10 vs. 6) but it's SO much less stressful! I'd rather spend 10 hours reading than 6 hours driving.
 

railiner

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One of my pet peeves is the inability of all states to work together to integrate their toll systems. EZ Pass seems to be the most comprehensive but it (or something similar) should be valid nationwide. In fact, why not have the transponder built into new autos, like Sirius/xm?
Good points!

The reason is, that the companies providing those systems to the various toll authorities are competing, and the authorities are more interested in getting a better deal, then ease of use for long distance motorists.

The satellite radio receiver’s built into new cars are not transponders...they only receive.

As to why car manufacturers don’t build them in... could be expense, or could be a privacy issue. Some people object to these devices being used to track them.
 

fairviewroad

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I agree that there are privacy concerns, although that could be offset somewhat by making the transponders inactive unless/until the driver activates their account. But I guess that would mean they'd be putting them into tons of vehicles that would never use them, so I can see the argument against it.

As far as states getting "on the same page" with regards to inter-operability, I completely agree with this. The Northeast/Midwest states have it right...can you imagine having to use a different transponder for each state if you drove from New York to Chicago, for instance?
 

Devil's Advocate

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Among states that have pass card tolls there are federal directives already in place requiring regional interoperability. It probably should be a national directive but for whatever reason that has not yet come to pass. In my view the primary problem today involves people who travel from a non-toll region to an area that only allows automatic payments. Some toll areas explain the process and fees clearly but others just assume you know what to expect. Some car rental locations make toll payments easy to understand and reasonably priced, but others simply wait for a plate charge to show up and then tack on a bunch of extra processing and administrative fees that can increase the cost by another order of magnitude. This can create a stressful and confusing situation with no obvious solution for the uninitiated. These days it seems like nearly all tolling infrastructure is designed to work fine for locals but with little or no consideration for short term visitors other than to charge them more money.
 

railiner

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To add to DA’s post...
Even the EZ Pass does not treat all subscribers equally. While it generally gives every one a discount over the “cash”, or billed from plate number fare;
It sometimes gives a better discount to customers who subscribe from the particular toll authority whose facility you are using.
In a place like New York City, you can subscribe to EZ Pass from:
MTA Bridges and Tunnels
Port Authority of NY and NJ
New York State Thruway
New Jersey Turnpike

Of course, you can subscribe to as many as you want, and shuffle them around to match the facility you are using (the others are placed in a RFID shielded envelope, but what an inconvenience...
 
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