E-ZPass makes historic New Hampshire turnpike tokens history

| 8/19/2005

New technology on the New Hampshire turnpike is about to make a half-century worth of toll tokens history – quite literally.

As of Sept. 1, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation will stop selling highway tokens, and as of Jan. 1, 2006, the tokens will no longer be accepted at tollbooths.

Instead, New Hampshire is banking on its new E-ZPass wireless toll collection system, which allows drivers with a transponder to pass through the tolls without stopping and be billed at a later date.

But with the banishment of the tokens goes more than 50 years of toll-road history.

According to the Boston Globe, turnpikes in New Hampshire have been in use for more than 200 years, but the modern version of the toll tokens began in 1955. The original “A” toll token was worth 10 cents, and a larger “B” token was worth 15 cents. The current version of the tokens, which went into use in 1985, is worth 25 cents.

To help preserve this history, the Museum of New Hampshire History is waiting to hear from the state DOT about keeping the leftover tokens and toll-collecting equipment in an exhibit.

“That’s our job – to preserve unique aspects of New Hampshire’s history and culture,” Was Balla, director of collections and exhibitions at the museum, told the Globe.”

But maybe a boost in technology isn’t such a great move – the turnpike’s move to E-ZPass has not been without problems.

To help tout its new E-ZPass toll system on the turnpike, Gov. John Lynch and the turnpike’s executive council set the price for transponders – which every vehicle must carry to use the system – at $5.

So what’s the problem? Well, nothing, except that the cost of a transponder is actually $27, which has caused the state to cover the $22 difference, according to The Associated Press.

That cost, coupled with two other key factors, has left the state with a rather hefty bill – a $4 million bill, the Boston Globe reported. The key factors in the equation are:

  • Unexpected public response resulting in 100,000 E-ZPass transponders already being purchased since they became available in mid-June; and
  • The fact that many drivers who bought the $5 transponders don’t travel the toll routes every day and therefore don’t contribute large amounts of tolls to help offset the costs.

Another factor adding to the red-ink column for the venture is the $5 to $6 it costs the state to maintain each E-ZPass account per month.

“You present numbers that are staggering,” said Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, during questioning of Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray before the state’s Senate.

However, Murray said the department’s budget problems predate the implementation of E-ZPass, and that this new debt represents “minor money” in the department’s overall financial situation, the Globe reported.

“Long term, we’re OK, but next year is tight,” Murray said. “The next year is scary.” The state Senate voted to increase the cost of the transponders after more research is done on the system.

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer