Kansas representative moves forward with open-road tolling plan

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 10/29/2015

Sections of the interstates through Kansas could become less congested near major tollbooths in the not-too-distant future, according to Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina. The Kansas representative and chairman of the Kansas House Committee on Transportation and Public Safety Budget is currently leading a proposal that will utilize open-road tolling.

Rep. Claeys and the Kansas Turnpike Authority are in the early stages of moving tollbooths on busy sections of Interstate 35 and Interstate 70 from the middle of the highway to off the side of the road. Claeys’ goal is to keep traffic moving in areas where traffic is stopped to up to three miles.

Some tollbooths will move to a tag system already being used in Oklahoma and Illinois. Motorists with a K-Tag will drive through the highway without stopping. Drivers without a K-Tag will pull off to the side of the interstate where more traditional tollbooths will be available. Trailers needing to be scanned for varying tolls because of the number of axles will also need to use the side lanes.

“When NASCAR is letting out 100,000-plus people onto the interstate, and Royals and Chiefs games with people returning to Kansas from the Missouri side, we have a tremendous amount of traffic and pressure on those toll gates. What’s happening now is you’re getting a mile, two miles, three miles of backup traffic into the moving lanes of I-70,” Claeys told Land Line.

Claeys noted that traffic was getting congested to the point where tollbooth operators were being instructed to stop collecting tolls and letting people through because of safety concerns. When that started to happen, Claeys knew it was time to do something.

“We will move from a system where all traffic is stopped to having those lanes completely open, to have traffic unimpeded on the interstate,” Claeys said.

Other areas of concern include the Lawrence-to-Topeka three-lane interchange on I-70. Claeys pointed out that a significant amount of people employed in Topeka live outside the city and commute to work. Compared to occasional backup due to events near Kansas City, the Topeka backup is daily during the rush hours.

Drivers with Oklahoma’s Pikepass will be able to use their tag on Kansas toll roads. Conversely, K-Tags will be compatible on Oklahoma toll roads.

There is no current plan to use automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) as the main source of collecting tolls, similar to the system being used in Colorado. Claeys explained that Kansas currently uses ALPRs only as a means of enforcement. ALPRs are only activated when a driver misses a toll. Expanded use in the future, however, is not completely off the table.

“I know that people are a little less comfortable with having their license tag scanned frequently, but we can address those concerns when the time comes if that’s something they’re interested in,” Claeys said.

Open-road tolling should be ready to go in approximately 18 months. An education push will be rolled out closer to the launch date. Drivers who are interested in learning more can periodically visit KSTurnpike.org for updates.

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