The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) has installed high-speed gates in all of its toll lanes as part of the implementation of the E-ZPass system.  While the new toll system has been a huge hit with customers, some questions regarding the necessity of the toll gates have been received.  The reasons are really quite simple. Since vehicles using E-ZPass do not expect to have any interaction with a toll collector on most toll roads, they generally do not come to a stop in the toll lane. Certain situations unique to the CBBT have required the installation of a gated system so that vehicles can be stopped if necessary, as a result of stringent restrictions that are necessary as a result of the two tunnels as well as the harsh marine environment in which the facility is located.

The CBBT is exposed to high winds that require the restriction of certain types of vehicles when wind speeds exceed 40 miles per hour. This typically happens about 15 to 20 times per year given the extreme storms that traverse the Chesapeake Bay. Gates are required to stop these vehicles during times of high winds so that they can be turned around. It is not a matter of trusting customers to battle high winds by themselves but rather a matter of customer safety.

Also, due to the two tunnels that are part of the facility, the CBBT has special restrictions on vehicles carrying hazardous materials. The District’s operational staff has to be able to interact with placarded vehicles, via the remote intercom system, that may be carrying hazardous materials as well as campers or RV’s that may be utilizing propane gas. Again, an E-ZPass customer does not typically expect to stop, and without gates, could slip through unchecked.

Gates are also needed to stop over-height trucks. Both of the tunnels can only accommodate a maximum height of 13’6”. District personnel have to inspect and measure any vehicle over that height requirement so that the driver can be turned around or properly adjust the height of the truck.  Typically, this happens about 15 times per day. Allowing a truck to go unchecked is not only a safety issue but could also be very expensive. In April 2007, one over-height truck caused over $135,000 in damages to the tunnels that took three weeks to repair.

The gates are also required to stop vehicles from entering the facility during times of police activity, accidents, or closures. This is important not only due to safety concerns, but also traveler convenience.  Due to the physical nature of a bridge and tunnel system, there are very few places to turn vehicles around for a detour or to wait out a lengthy closure. This is best done at the toll plaza.

The left two lanes are setup to be dedicated E-ZPass Only lanes for cars and light trucks. Despite numerous signs, approximately 50% of the vehicles using those dedicated lanes on November 1, were either the wrong type of vehicle or were trying to pay by some other means than E-ZPass. The numbers have improved recently, but one out of every ten vehicles is an incorrect vehicle type or an incorrect payment type. In these situations, the gates allow the operational staff to converse with the customers who have been forced to stop via the remote intercom system. The current overhead signage indicates that only E-ZPass vehicles should use the two left lanes. This overhead signage is only temporary and the completion of the new variable message signs is expected in mid-January, 2008. The new signage will further assist in the refinement of the system as customers become more familiar with it over time.

Customers have come to realize that the high-speed performance of the gates certainly allow for seamless customer service if none of the aforementioned variables are involved. These gates will rise in 3/5 of a second and allow for vehicles to proceed through the lane at 5-10 miles per hour.