E-ZPass ready for spring debut

CONCORD – By Memorial Day weekend, motorists who sign up to get an E-ZPass will be able to drive their car or truck slowly through all turnpike tollbooths without stopping, Gov. Craig Benson announced Friday.

Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray joined Benson to declare that by the end of March, motorists can buy the transponder for their vehicle windshields that will detect each trip through the tolls and later bill them for it.

The state estimates as many as 200,000 motorists will join the E-ZPass system in the first year, Murray said.“It’s really exciting after eight years to finally put this into place,’’ she said.

To mark the occasion, Benson got an E-ZPass pin on his lapel, and Murray presented him with a framed copy of the transponder software.

“I can’t tell you this has been easy,’’ Benson told reporters.

“We will get to E-ZPass where it will be easier.’’

A consultant for the Department of Transportation will recommend what level of discount should remain for motorists who buy tokens to pass through the tollbooths.

New Hampshire’s 50 percent discount for token use is the highest of any in the country.

The Legislature rejected attempts by House Republican lawmakers to reduce the discount to 30 percent and retained the authority of the Executive Council to set the token rate.

Benson said he would not “bias’’ the consultant’s study by offering an opinion, other than to say token use at some discount can remain and still create an incentive for consumers to buy the E-ZPass.

“Nobody knows what the future (discount) is going to be,’’ he said.

The state will phase in use of E-ZPass at the toll locations starting with the Spaulding Turnpike, which runs along the Seacoast from Portsmouth to Rochester.

This area has large tie-ups at commuting rush hours, Murray said.

Earlier, Murray had said the state would start E-ZPass on Interstate 95 in Hampton, the site of the highest traffic volume for any toll station.

“You don’t bite the biggest bite when you get into the market,” she said of the Hampton site.

The technology exists at 22 toll authorities in the United States, and Maine will just beat out New Hampshire’s implementation with a March 1 start date.

By spring, tourists with E-ZPass will be able to drive from Maine to Florida through tolls without stopping, said Parker Williams, vice president of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the Dallas-based company that will handle customer service for the state.

Each customer will have to establish an account through either credit card or by check with $25 the typical deposit, Williams said.

“The customer convenience available for this technology is simply unbelievable,’’ Williams said.

New Hampshire will videotape the license plates of those passing through E-ZPass lanes to determine who does so illegally, Murray said.

Lawmakers gave her agency that authority after the state of Massachusetts lost millions when certain E-ZPass lanes malfunctioned and for a short period of time all drivers passed through them for free.

First, a letter will be sent to the registered owner of the scofflaw car or truck that illegally passed through an E-ZPass lane, Murray said.

If the owner pays the toll, no fine is assessed on a first offense, she said. Failing to pay the toll is a $50 fine.

A second offense carries a $50 fine regardless whether the toll is paid.

Those New Hampshire residents who already have an E-ZPass transponder from another state will not have to make any purchases to pass through tolls here once it’s up and running.

Murray said motorists will be able to buy transponders online or at three customer service centers that will likely be located in Nashua, Hooksett and the Hampton area.

The transponder will last for seven years and cost $30 to buy, but motorists who can’t afford that can pay as little as $2 per month to get one, Murray said.

The 3-by-5-inch device will be attached by Velcro to the windshield and can be easily moved from one car to the next, Murray said.

As for thefts, Murray said the state would make it easy to disable those that are taken and issue a new one to the customer.