Gantries going up this year on the Tri-State Tollway near Touhy Avenue won't signal an extra toll, officials said Wednesday.
Instead, the Illinois tollway is erecting a test site to check out how emerging technology such as smartphone apps and future equipment including cameras interact with the I-PASS system. The test site will start operating in 2015.
"It's similar to what people will drive under when they pay tolls with I-PASS," tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said at a Wednesday meeting. "We'll be building an extra one of those.
Conducting tests in live traffic will allow the agency to see how new products perform under stress. "We'll know how they work in all weather conditions, and our customers will benefit, we believe, from having a seamless integration with new technology," Lafleur added.
Among the gadgets that could be tested are feedback transponders that beep or give other indications when a toll is paid and warn drivers if their I-PASS balances are low. The agency hasn't decided if it will distribute feedback transponders yet, but planners acknowledged it's something that customers have asked for.
The test site also could be used to try out smartphone applications for paying tolls and transponders with "multi-protocol readers," which detect toll systems outside of the E-ZPass coalition that the Illinois tollway belongs to -- such as Florida's SunPass.
The tollway is also in the market for new cameras that record license plates as vehicles pass through toll plazas. With the current equipment, "the images could be much better," Business Systems Chief Shauna Whitehead said. The test site would let tollway staff review different models of cameras before purchasing in bulk.
Tollway administrators dubbed the test site a "living laboratory" and said it's the first of its kind in the United States. Once up, it will operate in perpetuity.
The gantries will carry signs stating "test zone no tolls taken," to reassure dubious I-PASS users, and officials promised there won't be any double tolling.
The test site costs $2.7 million to design and build, which is higher than original estimates because of its unique features and an expedited schedule, officials explained.