The opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike's first all-electronic toll facility in Bucks County in January will be the first step toward doing away with cash tolls - and toll collectors - all along the turnpike.
All-electronic tolling also is part of the long-delayed direct connection between the turnpike and I-95, now under construction.
In January, when all turnpike tolls are to be increased by 6 percent, a new electronic toll will also be imposed on westbound vehicles at the eastern end of the turnpike. The toll will be $5 for vehicles with E-ZPass and $6.75 for those without. The non-E-ZPass vehicles' owners will be billed by mail, based on license plates.
That is a harbinger of the future.
The new Delaware River Bridge "open-road tolling" gantry will be followed next year by a similar all-electronic toll facility on the Beaver Valley Expressway northwest of Pittsburgh.
Those two projects will be studied by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission before all-electronic tolling is installed elsewhere on the 552-mile-long network, turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said Wednesday.
Turnpike officials want to see how successful they are at collecting tolls by mail from non-E-ZPass users and will evaluate "employee issues" with all-electronic tolling, DeFebo said.
About 750 toll collectors could lose their jobs when cash tolls are fully phased out, although the Turnpike Commission has promised that none will lose their jobs during the two pilot projects next year.
Toll collectors cost the turnpike about $70 million a year.
It would cost about $320 million to install all-electronic tolling all along the turnpike network, according to a 2012 study for the turnpike commission.
The same study said all-electronic tolling would take from 52 months to 64 months to install throughout the network, although DeFebo said Wednesday that no timetable had been set for getting rid of all cash tolls.
One issue for the turnpike will be the ability to enforce pay-by-mail tolls.
If motorists don't pay toll notices received by mail, the charges will be turned over to a collection agency, DeFebo said.
But the Turnpike Commission has no authority to block a motorist's vehicle registration or driver's license for failure to pay.
DeFebo acknowledged that "there will be some leakage" in pay-by-mail tolls, but he said most motorists are expected to pay.