With the opening of the new segment of Orlando's Western Beltway (Toll 429) on Dec. 8, Florida's Turnpike--part of the Florida Department of Transportation--will put into service its advanced open road tolling (ORT) gantries that will play a vital role in minimizing traffic congestion along the heavily traveled corridor to Orlando's theme park destinations. The Western Beltway connects US 192 to I-4.
"Since 2002, we've envisioned an ORT gantry that would allow at-speed toll collection without requiring lane closures for maintenance," said James Ely, chief executive officer of Florida's Turnpike Enterprise. "Now it's here: the first U.S. toll gantry that enables the Turnpike to maintain toll equipment 24/7 without shutting down lanes. That means greater safety for motorists and service technicians alike."
Two leading-edge gantries, one for each traffic direction, are being equipped with the latest advances in electronic toll collection (ETC) technology, lights, cameras and SunPass antennas. The gantries will be located just north of the US 192 exit. They will be immediately recognizable by the large SunPass internally illuminated sign overhead. Initially, the gantries will each cover two center lanes but can be expanded to four lanes-up to 80-ft wide with shoulders.
Motorists with SunPass ETC transponders will be able to pass underneath the ORT gantries at highway speeds, mitigating the possibility of bottlenecks that contribute to congestion. Drivers without the SunPass transponders can access cash collection booths that will remain at the outside edges of the toll plaza.
To learn about the latest technology available, Florida's Turnpike and its general engineering consultant, PBS&J, visited equipment providers and tolling entities in the U.S. and abroad. The Turnpike's team of architects, toll technology, toll equipment maintenance and safety personnel collaborated with toll equipment manufacturer TransCore to apply research findings to functional requirements. URS Corp. then won a design competition in 2004 to work with the Turnpike and TransCore to create an advanced, yet standardized gantry that will be consistent with the state-of-the-industry worldwide.
Toll transactions collected at the ORT gantries will not be limited solely to SunPass customers. Because the Turnpike's toll facilities recognize and accept transponders issued by almost all other Florida toll agencies, including the EPass, OPass and LeeWay ETC programs, the majority of Florida toll customers will be able to use the new ORT system.
To provide non-stop service to motorists, the new gantry has been designed so that almost all maintenance is done at the roadside or overhead. A fall-resistant system on the access column and gantry walkway will prevent serious injuries to service personnel. All tools will be tethered to the technicians, who also will be wearing fall-resistant harnesses likewise tethered to the gantry. A warning system of lights will alert technicians of approaching inclement weather.
Through the closed-caption television (CCTV) cameras and toll-monitoring equipment located on the gantry, traffic operators at the Turnpike Enterprise's SunWatch Operations Center can remotely detect, diagnose and repair many problems in real time so that on-site technicians will only be needed for more difficult repairs.
The gantry is constructed using two vertical columns and horizontal tubular beams connected by a grated floor system that creates a 6-ft, 6-in. walkway. It stands approximately 20 ft above the road surface. The design uses structural materials of steel or aluminum and meets state building and hurricane wind loads.
The exterior facing of the overhead structure is actually multiple sets of two paneled doors running perpendicular to the walkway. Each door is 2 ft wide and creates a 4-ft opening between vertical support struts that are repeated along the entire face of the structure.
Toll equipment is secured on retractable aluminum arms over the ORT lanes. Technicians can access the toll equipment through the doors by using a tethered portable drill to retract the arm to the walkway where the toll equipment can be serviced or replaced without endangering drivers or the technician. Critically important ETC antenna panels and cameras have been carefully tested and aligned to assess traffic flowing through the gantry below.
"We are planning to place ORT gantries at more than 20 mainline locations within the next several years," said Ely. The Turnpike will use the new gantry in most future ORT toll locations on the Florida
Turnpike-owned roadways. Truss structure gantries, which are not walkable and are maintained using vehicle-mounted lifts for access, will be used for ramps and elevated reversible toll lanes such as those in Tampa.
"We're confident that ORT gantries will be not only be successful in helping to control ever- increasing traffic as the population of Florida grows, but will also be embraced by motorists as an efficient way to streamline travel on our highways. As more motorists choose this predictable and reliable travel option, more cash-collection lanes can easily be converted to ORT gantry lanes."