The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and HNTB recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the launch of the country’s first high-speed electronic toll collection project. Known as PIKEPASS, the project was driven by then Turnpike Authority CEO Richard Ridings, currently with HNTB’s Austin office. HNTB was the General Engineering Consultant for the Turnpike Authority at the time and led the project’s design and development.
Michelle Dippel, HNTB’s Austin Office Leader shared “Listening to Richard tell the story – he makes it sound like it was easy for the Turnpike Authority to make such a critical change in their operation. But you can tell from the recollections of the staff who worked for him it was something Richard was passionate about and he wouldn’t be satisfied until it was implemented. You can hear the pride in their voices, and you can see it in Richard too. They should be proud – it was groundbreaking innovation.”
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Ridings. “Making people stop to pay cash tolls, potentially multiple times during a trip, brought numerous problems including congestion, the safety of toll workers and vehicle accidents at toll booths. Electronic toll collection was just the right thing to do for our customers and employees.”
Previously tolling technology used bar code readers to identify vehicles, but those required drivers to slow down or come to a stop for the reader to work. The new high-speed tolling technology was developed by Amtech Systems, and thoroughly tested over a six-month period at a high-speed test track at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Once systems were tested and ready to implement, the Turnpike Authority built high-speed bypass lanes at toll plazas. For the first time in history, these new lanes allowed customers to drive border-to-border without stopping.
“Once the system was operational, I reached out personally to Walmart’s Sam Walton,” Ridings added. “Since they were based in neighboring Arkansas, their trucking operation was the single largest commercial carrier using the Turnpike. We showed him how using electronic tolling would actually cut his transportation costs by a factor of four over the costs of tolls, once you factor in time lost, fuel savings, wear and tear and accidents. Once Walmart bought in and drivers saw Walmart trucks breezing through toll stations, the rest of the trucking industry quickly followed.”
“For HNTB, designing and delivering this project was a game-changer,” said Heidi Eilers, Oklahoma office leader. “We were able to share our expertise with tolling agencies across the country, and HNTB quickly began working with one state after another to expand electronic tolling.”