By Richard Wronski
Illinois Tollway motorists won't exactly be guinea pigs, but they will be used to help test new technologies, including smartphones to pay for tolls, officials said today.
Tollway officials approved construction of a test zone along the southbound Tri-State Tollway (Interstate 294) that will use regular drivers and conditions to improve existing equipment and experiment with new types of I-PASS transponders that instantly confirm toll payments.
Aside from new overhead gantries near the Touhy Avenue Toll Plaza, motorists won't see anything different, Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.
"This will allow us to be able to implement new technology with minimum disruption to our customers in all weather conditions," Lafleur said. "Our customers will benefit from having a seamless integration of new technology on the Tollway."
The Tollway will post signs on the gantries to remind motorists they are going through the test zone and not another toll plaza. Work on the $2.7 million project will start this year and is expected to be completed in 2015, officials said.
The test zone would be another step toward enabling motorists to use their smartphones to pay tolls, something officials first predicted in June 2013.
Potentially, Tollway users could download an app to their phones that would take advantage of the devices' GPS function to determine the distance they travel and the amount of tolls to be paid, said Shana Whitehead, the tollway's chief of business systems.
Other new technology the Tollway hopes to test includes universal I-PASS transponders designed to be recognized by different tolling systems in other states, and "feedback" transponders that would confirm when tolls are paid and remind drivers when their account balances are low.
The test site also could be used to determine whether improved camera technology could more accurately capture license plate images of passing vehicles, officials said.
Tollway officials said they hope the test site will help maximize revenues while holding down operating costs.
The site potentially could generate new revenue by allowing the Tollway to charge other agencies and private manufacturers to test equipment and technologies there, officials said.
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