One day after the President George Bush Turnpike went to all-electronic toll collection, The Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog takes note of one of the North Texas Tollway Authority's reasons for ditching the quarter-catchers: "Air Quality and Fuel Efficiency." As in: "Transitioning to all-ETC will eliminate the stopping, starting and idling associated with cash toll lanes. By promoting a continuous flow of traffic at consistent speeds, the NTTA promotes air quality in the region."
Ben Casselman wonders if that's true or just good spin.
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So does eliminating toll booths really cut down on emissions? The answer appears to be a qualified "yes." A 1998 study in Orlando, Fla., found that installing an electronic toll collection system at the Holland East Toll Plaza there cut carbon monoxide emissions by 7.29% and hydrocarbon emissions by 7.19%. The reduction came even though the number of vehicles passing through the tolls during peak hours increased by 30%.
The downside: Nitrogen oxide emissions increased by 33.77%, apparently because cars were able to drive faster with the electronic tolls. (The Orlando road kept some cash lanes, so the impacts -- positive and negative -- would presumably be even greater in a totally cash-less system such as Dallas'.)