FHWA Rules Opt for a Gradual Approach to Achieving Nationwide Interoperability for Toll Collection

On October 8, 2009, FHWA issued electronic toll collection rules in response to a 2005 SAFTEA-LU law, which in all respects reiterate the status quo for the tolling industry and provide no guidance or standards with respect to SAFTEA-LU’s goal of progressing towards a nationwide interoperable electronic toll collection system.

With regard to interoperability, Section 950.7 of the rules require the tolling agency to identify: (i) the projected users of the facility; (ii) the predominant electronic toll collection systems likely utilized by users of the facility; and (iii) the non-cash electronic technology likely to be in use for the next 5 years in that area, including a requirement that the tolling agency demonstrate that the selected toll collection system and technology achieves the highest reasonable degree of interoperability with both technology currently in use at other existing toll facilities and with technology likely to be in use at toll facilities within the next five years in that area.

All of these requirements specifically focus on existing and local interoperability, but do not require a specific standard for nor set a specific path to achieving national interoperability. The comments that FHWA received in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking suggested that setting a specific interoperability standard would be premature pending changes made possible with wide scale adoption of 5.9 GHz technology. Moreover, the response to comments also made clear that there was no clear consensus around what standards national interoperability should be built. Thus, FHWA adopted a rule that essentially maintained and encouraged existing trends toward achieving regional interoperability, and provided for reasonable opportunities for motorists outside of particular toll systems to pay tolls through alternative means.

Hence, the interoperability requirements set forth in these rules have long been the industry standard in developing tolling collection systems. Well before these rules were promulgated, tolling agencies have spent considerable time and money researching these identical factors in developing toll collection systems. Without any federal rules requiring toll agencies to move towards a nationwide interoperable system, toll agencies will likely continue to focus its efforts on developing toll collection systems that are generally accepted and used in the local area, which is entirely acceptable under these newly promulgated federal rules.

FHWA signaled its intent to address interoperability again as new technologies come on line and if the demand to true interoperability increases.

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