In a move that should speed the daily commutes of some Lawrence-area motorists, the Kansas Turnpike Authority is looking to nix the gates at select toll plazas for K-Tag owners.
Jeri Biehler, KTA communications director, said the KTA started a pilot video enforcement program this week with the goal of eliminating gates on K-Tag only lanes at three “main line” toll plazas. Two of the three plazas — the east Topeka Interstate 70 toll plaza and the eastern-most I-70 toll plaza in Kansas City, Kan. — would be familiar with Lawrence-area K-Tag owners commuting to the east and west. The third plaza is on Interstate 35 on the Oklahoma border.
What those three main line turnpike plazas have in common is access from an interstate highway, as opposed to entry or exit from or to a state or federal highway, such as Kansas Highway 10 or U.S. Highway 59 at the Lawrence toll plazas, Biehler said.
Recent legislation is allowing the KTA to begin what it is calling a video pilot program with the July 1 start of the fiscal year, Biehler said. The system makes use of overhead video cameras, instead of gates, to monitor K-Tag express lane traffic, she said. The transponders in K-Tags will continue to be read in the lane, but the newly installed cameras are capable of capturing images of the license plates of drivers using the lanes without K-Tags, Biehler said. The KTA has found over the years that many of those erroneously using the K-Tag lanes are drivers from the East Coast, who mistakenly think that their state’s express lane tags are compatible with the Kansas system.
Others seek to take advantage of busy times when toll booth operators leave the K-Tag gates up to accommodate heavy traffic, Biehler said.
“We know people are going to get into K-Tag lanes,” she said. “That’s where the video pilot program comes in. Once we get video enforcement going, we’ll send invoices to those going through the lane without K-Tags. The license plates will be captured on video. There’s nothing to be gained by running the lanes.”
The benefit for K-Tag users will be the capability to exit the turnpike at the select toll plazas at higher speeds.
“We like to give our customers a good experience,” Biehler said. “We will be spending time testing the equipment, making sure we have good reads on those tags and making sure we have the cameras in the right place.”
After the pilot program, the KTA looks to roll out what it's calling “open road tolling” sometime later this summer, Biehler said.
KTA will continue to have manned K-Tag/cash booths at the three toll plazas with the opening of the gate-less lanes, Biehler said. Eventually, the plan is to reconfigure the three plazas so that the open-gate K-Tag lanes are on the left and the cash lanes are on the right, which is just the opposite of the current layout, she said.
K-Tags can be ordered online at myktag.com; account management is also available online and allows K-Tag owners to pay for tolls in advance or to be billed for turnpike use.