Web site offers drivers information on Md. tolls Technology: The Maryland Transportation Authority ventures into the Internet and plans to install an electronic toll-collection system.

The Intrepid Commuter

July 01, 1996

SOME DOINGS are under way in cyberspace this month at the Maryland Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees the state's seven toll facilities and the roughly $121 million collected at the booths each year.

Just surf on over to the agency's World Wide Web page for the latest information on (yawn) toll-taking in Maryland. Among the offerings on the Internet, the MdTA is providing "descriptions of toll facilities, current toll rates and facts about the authority's police force," according to a two-page release detailing this new venture.

Your Intrepid One left the wheel long enough last week to hook into cyberspace and check out the information -- much of which, by the way, can also be located in your phone book.

The MdTA, it seems, moved from cars to computers to "keep up with Gov. Parris Glendening's priority of extending access to state agencies through today's communications technology," said MdTA Chairman David L. Winstead, who is the state's transportation chief.

Tom Freburger, an MdTA spokesman, said last week that, so far, two questions have been sent via e-mail to the agency. The first was from a small construction firm in Baltimore whose owner was curious about how to bid on future toll facilities projects. The second concerned why the Chesapeake Bay Bridge curved from shore to shore.

(FYI: The bridge curves to produce a right angle over the Chesapeake Bay in keeping with Army Corps of Engineers specifications for bridges that span a main shipping channel, the spokesman said.)

The agency also hopes to sell commuter-toll ticket books through the Internet as soon as a method for purchasing the merchandise can be resolved. The books now may be bought at toll sites with cash, check or money order.

With Web service like this, can legions of better-educated drivers be far off?

The MdTA Web site address is http: //www.inform.umd.edu: 8080/UMS+State/MD_Resources/MDOT/mdta/index.htm (yup, that's a long one). You can send e-mail to the agency at mdtdta.satelink.net.

Speaking of tolls, and keeping up with the impersonal '90s, Freburger said the state is close to unveiling a new system of paying at the booth that won't involve human contact.

It's called ETC -- electronic toll collection -- and uses a prepaid, quarter-size doohickey on the driver-side windshield or dash board. When you drive through the booth, all you have to do is slow down to about 20 mph and let an electric eye do the work.

The system is modeled after a very successful ETC on the Oklahoma Turnpike called Pike Pass. A similar ETC was tested in Maryland at the Harbor Tunnel using 500 commuter volunteers -- but they had to stop each time at the plaza because the test was not fully set up for a drive-through, Freburger said. Maryland's foray into ETC -- which, by the way, will receive a zippy name like Oklahoma's -- is expected to be launched at Baltimore's Fort McHenry Tunnel and the Harbor Tunnel this year. The entire cost is yet to be figured, Freburger said.

Traffic updates aren't music to drivers stuck on I-95

Like to listen to the radio while driving?

Try finding 1610 on the AM dial when on Interstate 95 near Moravia Road, at Bradshaw Road in Baltimore County and at the Route 279 interchange near Elkton in Cecil County.

You won't find Diana Ross, though. The only warbling will be the staticky sound of traffic updates -- and most of them stale.

Intrepid tuned in one day while stuck in a huge traffic backup on I-95 in Cecil County. While hoping to hear what was causing the parking lot-like transformation of the highway, your wheelster was treated to annoying promos for state tourism and construction updates for projects at least 40 miles away. All this and gridlock, too!

The agency responsible for the stations, your cyber-friendly MdTA, relies on the State Highway Administration's CHART system -- Chesapeake Highway Advisories Routing Traffic -- to feed traffic updates to motorists and suggest alternate routes, Freburger said. Radio operators in a control center are supposed to monitor the CHART system and call in updates by telephone for the radio-broadcast tapes that play over and over and over.

The information is supposed to be "as current as possible," Freburger said, considering that the operators are on duty 24 hours a day.

Road work ahead on I-95; MTA improves bus service

Shortcuts: A $1.6 million concrete patching job along a 21-mile stretch of I-95 in Baltimore, Howard and Prince George's counties will begin July 8.

Expect northbound and southbound lanes to be closed at all hours except on the evenings when the Orioles play at Camden Yards. That's when southbound closures will get a two-hour stay after the last pitch is thrown.

Hats Off: To the Mass Transit Administration for listening to its customers. When riders of the No. 210 line from Baltimore complained that the bus took a 20-minute layover before reaching its final destination of State Circle in Annapolis, making them late for work daily, the agency last week ordered the layover to take place after its last stop. Not rocket science, but it makes for a kinder, gentler ride.

Pub Date: 7/01/96

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