North Lawrence space to become new home for Kansas Turnpike Authority retail center, call center

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

A Kansas Turnpike toll ticket booth in North Lawrence on July 7, 2023. The KTA will stop using booths to dispense tickets and take payments after changing to a new cashless system in 2024.

Updated at 9:50 a.m. Friday, June 21

Soon, turnpike toll booth workers will be a job of the past in Kansas, as the turnpike will eliminate all toll booths as part of a cashless tolling system that begins July 1.

But Lawrence is set to have a whole new crop of turnpike jobs emerge. Lawrence has been chosen as a site for a new Kansas Turnpike Authority retail center, which also will house a call center for turnpike operations.

The new facility is slated to go into a vacant storefront in North Lawrence’s I-70 Business Center, which is just across the street from the current North Lawrence turnpike interchange. Work is underway in converting the office space — which is next door to the Journal-World offices at 1035 N. Third St. — into the new turnpike center.

The new office will initially employ about 15 people, but is being equipped for a staff of 60, Kansas Turnpike Authority spokesperson Rachel Bell said.

Some of the employees will be call center workers who will handle questions and customer service issues related to turnpike users. But other employees will be much more like retail workers.

What does the Turnpike Authority have to sell, you ask? First and foremost, KTags. Those are the transponders that stick on your windshield or dashboard that allow the Turnpike Authority to track how many miles you have traveled on its roads.

Those KTags will continue to be a big part of the turnpike system once the switch to cashless tolling begins. Essentially, KTag users have been doing cashless tolling all along. The whole point of the KTag is to allow motorists to avoid stopping at a toll booth.

With the new system, the Turnpike Authority will be urging turnpike users to get a KTag, but not requiring it. If you don’t have a KTag, sensors along the turnpike will capture your license plate information, and the Turnpike Authority will send you a bill based on your vehicle’s registration data.

KTag users also will get bills for their usage on the turnpike, but their bills will be cheaper. Come July 1, KTag users will receive a 50% discount on the toll rates versus motorists who don’t have the KTag. Currently, KTag users do receive a discount, but it is not that large. Current discounts generally range from 25% to 35%, depending on the size of your vehicle.

That discount is expected to drive an increase in the number of people who want a KTag. Thus far, that theory is proving correct as the July 1 date approaches, Bell said.

“The last two weeks really have been pretty wild,” Bell said of KTag sales.

I say “sales,” but that is a misnomer. The Ktag itself doesn’t cost you anything.

“We give those away for free,” Bell said of the sticker-like device that is about the size of a Band-Aid.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A storefront space that will become home to a new Kansas Turnpike retail center and call center is shown on Friday, June 21, 2024 in the I-70 Business Center in North Lawrence.

People, of course, can sign up for a Ktag online and never need to go to a physical location to get the sticker or to pay their bill. But Bell said there are people who want to make those transactions in person, and thus the Turnpike Authority has three retail locations currently. One of them actually is in Lawrence today, but you might be hard pressed to know it. A small building next to the toll booths for the West Lawrence interchange (that’s the one next to the Hallmark plant on McDonald Drive) houses a small retail office and a couple of desks for customer service calls.

“Back in the day it was just the toll supervisor’s office and the break room for toll collection staff,” Bell said of the small space.

The Turnpike Authority recognized the need for a more appropriate space, and Bell said the I-70 Business Center location was nearly perfect, given that it is right across the street from a turnpike interchange.

Turnpike officials also wanted a much larger space, Bell said. In addition to the increased demand for KTags due to the cashless tolling system, the Turnpike Authority also will be the administrator for a smaller tolling system that will open in KC metro area next year.

A portion of U.S. 69 Highway that runs through Overland Park will have express lanes added in 2025. Those express lanes are reserved for motorists who are willing to pay a toll, while the rest of the lanes on the road are toll free. The idea is the toll lanes have less traffic, and thus move at a faster pace.

While the express lanes are a project of the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Turnpike Authority — as the tolling experts in the state — will oversee the toll collections of the lanes. The Lawrence office will serve as the primary call center for that express lane program.

But make no mistake, the express lane program pales in comparison to the cashless tolling initiative the Turnpike Authority is rolling out. In some ways, it is the largest change the state’s turnpike system has ever encountered.

Bell said the project is on track to begin July 1. That’s when new rates will begin. Those new rates are expected to be cheaper for current KTag users who also continue to use a KTag under the new system, Bell said. As noted, the discount for KTag users grow to 50%. For people who currently don’t use a KTag and plan to not use a KTag in the future, rates to travel on the turnpike will be higher than they are today, Bell said.

The other change motorists will have to get used to involves logistics. Come July 1, there will no longer be a need to stop at any of the turnpike booths. They will no longer play any role in the system.

Bell said a plan is in place to have all toll booths removed from the turnpike system in the next 18 months. Some of that work will start very soon, she said. In the meantime, motorists likely will notice many signs alerting them to the changes and urging them to keep moving through the toll booth areas.

When the project is completed, turnpike officials are touting that bottlenecks at toll booths will be a thing of the past.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

A K-Tag scanner is pictured on the Kansas Turnpike on July 7, 2023.

COMMENTS

Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.