Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I-Zoom Girl may have to work overtime

Remember I-Zoom Girl? She’s the cartoon mascot of the Indiana Toll Road, created in recent years to help the operator market electronic toll transponders to the public.

Well, transponder sales are lagging these days just like everything else, so I-Zoom Girl may be required to put in a little overtime if the roadway operator, ITR Concession Co., is to upgrade to the next era of electronic tolling called open-road tolling.

Open-road tolling allows traffic to remain at highway speed as it passes through a collection point. Tolls would be levied by photo or scan and sent to vehicle owners. They say it saves time and that time is money.

As it stands right now, vehicles with I-Zoom transponders are required to slow down, pass under a scanning antenna, and wait for a mechanical arm to lift before proceeding. The alternative to having a transponder is making a complete stop to pay cash.

Since 2007, one year after ITR Concession Co. leased the 157-mile toll road from the state, the operator has been on a quest to replace basic electronic tolling with the open-road concept.

But ITR needs 80 percent of toll transactions to be electronic first before an open concept becomes feasible. At the present time, approximately 65 percent of toll transactions are electronic, so there’s a ways to go.

ITR Concession Co. is a partnership of Macquarie Infrastructure Group of Australia and Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte of Spain. In 2006, the consortium paid the state of Indiana $3.85 billion in cash for the right to operate the Indiana Toll Road through the year 2081.

Yes, 2081.

By the time the lease is up, I-Zoom Girl may very well have grandchildren, and those grandchildren will still be paying for roadway decisions made in her youth. I wonder what taxes and tolls will be like then.