Motorists stop and pay a toll at the Egg Harbor Toll Plaza on the Atlantic City Expressway, Wednesday Aug. 1, 2012, in Hamilton Township. Most of the funding for the South Jersey Transportation Authority comes from tolls. (The Press of Atlantic City/Staff Photo by Michael Ein)

Michael Ein

Privatized toll collection, implemented almost two years ago on the Atlantic City Expressway, is expected to yield nearly $7.5 million in savings by the end of 2014.

The South Jersey Transportation Authority voted Wednesday to extend a contract with Faneuil Inc., of Hampton, Va., for an additional year, prolonging the agreement through November 2014 at a cost of nearly $3.7 million.

The authority first moved to private toll collection in January 2012 hoping to save millions in salaries, pensions and benefits.

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Acting Executive Director Sam Donelson said the extension is a smart move for the authority given the savings it’s already received. Though the savings could fluctuate by the end of 2014, projections suggest the authority is saving 43 percent over three years by outsourcing toll collections to the private sector, Donelson said.

“It’s been doing exactly what we intended it to do,” Donelson said. “The savings have been substantial.”

Still, the contract extension prompted questions about what developments could produce even greater savings. Commissioner Jeffery April questioned how long it might take before the expressway converts to an all-electronic tolling system, eliminating the need for toll collectors entirely. Drivers would pay through E-Z Pass or would receive a bill in the mail for accumulated tolls.

Nearly $18 million was budgeted in SJTA’s 2012 capital plan to finance the start of the switch to an all-electronic system. Last September, however, that money was redirected largely to the third phase of the expressway widening after officials said more time would be needed to research how the system would work. Concerns include tracking down out-of-state drivers and compelling them to pay the tolls.

“We had significant discussions on this a couple of years ago,” April said. “We were kind of assured there would be some progress.”

The SJTA and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which operates the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike, are in discussions about the move to all-electronic tolling, with the Turnpike Authority taking the lead, Donelson said. The goal is to develop similar business models to create as little frustration as possible for drivers, he said.

Still, while SJTA already has a design and all the needed permits in place to remove existing tolls booths and install overhead scanners, the Turnpike Authority is further behind.

NJTA spokesman Tom Feeney said that while the authority hopes to convert to an all-electronic system, it can’t estimate when the conversion might take place. The parkway would likely make the change before the turnpike, largely because it has more in-state traffic and less commercial traffic.

“The first step to converting ... would be a formal feasibility study. There is no study scheduled at this point,” Feeney said. “And there are no all-electronic tolling related investments in the 10-year capital program.”

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