'Smart Highway' System Should Oust Toll Booths High-Tch Companies Battle for New Markets in the US, Europe, and Chile

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IF several high-tech companies have their way, traditional tollbooths - where cars stop, pay cash, and often wait in long lines - could soon be a thing of the past.

An electronic toll collection system - where motorists pay tolls in advance and pass through electronically monitored lanes without ever stopping - is one component of the Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems (IVHS) or "smart highways" as they are commonly called.

IVHS likely will change the way drivers in Massachusetts, and in other states around the country, think about getting from here to there. Two very different companies hope to lead the way.

AT/Comm, a 44-employee engineering and design company in Marblehead, Mass., hopes to do for this state what it is doing for Illinois. Last September AT/Comm won a bid from the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority to implement its Electronic Toll and Traffic Management System on the congested Illinois Tollroad.

By October, when the system is expected to be operational, selected drivers will attach a $35 transponder, manufactured by Dover Electronics Company, to the dashboard of their cars. They will prepay their toll money (typically $50) to a toll authority in the lane and the amount will be entered into the transponder via radio. The transponder internally maintains the account. When the motorists pass through the designated toll lanes, the money is debited from the account and the transaction information transmitted back to the driver.

The transponder can maintain 24 different accounts and works even if a motorist crosses into a different state that uses the same system, says John Rourke, vice president of sales and marketing.

This week AT/Comm announced it would meet in September in Chile with Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and Chile's minister of public works to finalize a proposal to test the AT/Comm electronic toll system there. And by the end of the year, the company expects to bid for contracts awarded by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, as well as for similar contracts in the next two to four years in such states as New Hampshire, New York, Florida, and Indiana, and countries like Japan, Singapore, France, and Sweden. …

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