Toll Insight spoke with Chip Stracciolini, Program Manager of Technology for the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC).
1. Please tell us about yourself.
Like many individuals employed in the toll industry, my career track started elsewhere. I worked for several engineering consulting firms in the Philadelphia region during the eight years after my college graduation in 1994. Many of the projects I worked on during that time were for tolling agencies. This is when I gained insights into government transportation agencies and the burgeoning potential of Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). It was a period when transportation agencies transitioned to view traffic as a customer dynamic rather than a vehicular statistic.
I interviewed for a project manager position with the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (DRJTBC) in the early 2000’s. This bi-state agency has a 140-mile-long jurisdiction along the Delaware River between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, beginning at the northern boundary of Philadelphia and extending upriver to the New York-New Jersey border. The Commission was the region’s last independent transportation agency to begin utilizing electronic tolling.
I worked as a consultant project manager to the DRJTBC from 2002 to 2005. I became a Commission employee in 2005, working as the program Manager responsible for projects related to tolling, traffic engineering and ITS. My initial focus was the ETC system the Commission put into service in late 2002. I soon was charged with the added task of creating a Violation Enforcement System that would enable the Commission to remove its outdated, congestion-causing toll lane gates. Since those early years, my work has broadened to include two Customer Service Center (CSC) transitions; re-sizing two former barrier Interstate Highway toll plazas and outfitting them with adjacent Open Road Tolling (ORT) lanes; and installing the DJRTBC’s first All Electronic Tolling (AET) system at the agency’s new Scudder Falls (I-295) Toll Bridge in 2019.
Early in my Commission tenure, the agency assigned me as its representative to the E-ZPass Group’s Policy and Executive Management committees. The work on those panels further enhanced my hands-on understanding of ETC systems and CSCs. I continue to serve on those committees to this day.
My wife and I live with our family in a Philadelphia suburb. Our oldest child began college this year. Our youngest is in high school. My spare time is spent watching my children’s soccer, softball and baseball games. Additionally, I coach soccer. My children and I also are U.S. Soccer Federation licensed referees.
2. Tell us about your agency and how it is different from all the other tolling agencies with “Delaware” in their names!
The DRJTBC (an acronym sometimes referred to as “Dr. J”) owns, operates and maintains twenty bridges connecting Pennsylvania and New Jersey across the Delaware River. Eight of these are toll bridges and twelve are toll-supported (non-toll) bridges, two of which are pedestrian-only. The Commission operates under a Compact, first jointly enacted by the States of New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1934 and ratified by Congress in 1935, in accordance with the Compact Clause to the U.S. Constitution. That authority has been reaffirmed in court decisions and subsequent Compact changes.
As previously noted, the DRJTBC has a 140-mile bi-state service area. There are three exception bridges in this jurisdiction: the Burlington-Bristol Bridge operated by the Burlington County (NJ) Bridge Commission; the Delaware River Bridge jointly operated by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission; and the Dingman’s Bridge between Pike County, PA and Sussex County, NJ – the last privately owned toll bridge along the river.
The DRJTBC operates as a self-funded entity without any tax revenues from either of its two jurisdictional states or the federal government. Funding for the operation, maintenance and upkeep of its bridges and other facilities is solely derived from revenues collected at its toll bridges.
The Commission is unique among the region’s other toll agencies for being required to operate non-toll bridges – usually small, aging two-lane multi-truss spans – near many of its toll bridges. The Commission refers to these alternate crossing as “toll-supported bridges” because the costs to operate and maintain them is covered by a portion of the revenues the agency collects at its eight toll bridges. While these toll-supported bridges have limited capacities, they have a diversionary effect on personal-vehicle traffic at nearby tolled crossings.
The DRJTBC often gets confused with other toll agencies along the Delaware River or by people who mistakenly think it is affiliated with the State of Delaware. It does not help that three bi-state transportation agencies along the river have the word “Delaware” in their names. None of these other agencies, however, are obligated to provide alternate toll-free crossings of the Delaware River.
3. Which accomplishments are you most proud of in your overall career and work within your agency? And which are your most interesting efforts looking ahead?
I’m most proud of having the opportunity to help guide the Commission in its transition from a cash-dominated toll collection system to one where more than 85 percent of tolls are collected electronically today. This work included the replacement of the Commission’s inaugural ETC system, the installation of ORT at our I-78 and Delaware Water Gap (I-80) Toll Bridges and implementing AET our Scudder Falls (I-295) Toll Bridge. Transitioning our conventional toll plazas at I-78 and I-80 to include ORT lanes improved the customer experience at those facilities. Late-afternoon/evening weekday traffic queues often extended more than three miles at the at the I-78 and I-80 toll plazas prior to the introduction of ORT lanes. Express ETC technology eliminated traffic queuing and delays, reduced pollution, and enhanced safety at those locations overnight. This result is a satisfying professional accomplishment.
Tolling projects like these have consistently benefited both the Commission and the traveling public. It’s a shared improvement once all potential implementation obstacles are identified, confronted, and overcome. From the agency perspective, there’s the technology challenge of associating a transaction with the correct vehicle and classifying that vehicle as best as possible. Beyond the technology, the system must be user friendly for our toll collectors and shift managers. Finally, the system must produce accurate reports with the needed data for the Commission’s Finance and Toll Audit departments. From the public’s perspective, the toll system must be seamless and painless, with high accuracy. Bringing the agency’s departments together and working with them along with selected vendors and consultants to develop and implement a toll-collection operation that meets all requirements and objectives is a significant challenge, but it is very rewarding when all the varied aspects come together. One significant benefit of working for a smaller agency like the Commission is that I have had the good fortune to work with a consistent team of dedicated and professional colleagues and consultants. I am thankful for their expertise and commitment in developing projects and toll systems that meet or exceed expectations.
More than five years ago, I was asked to manage a project beyond my area of expertise: the design and construction of the Commission’s new administration building near Yardley, PA. While the endeavor was out of my comfort zone, it afforded a new opportunity to depend on – and learn from – a new project team of different professional backgrounds and expertise. It also demanded consistent interaction with the agency’s executive management team. In the end, a new office building was constructed, so the agency’s core departments could be placed under a single roof in a modern, energy-efficient facility that engenders pride from the workforce each day.
Looking forward, I am interested in discovering and implementing new tolling solutions, such as mobile phone applications or Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communication/payment capability. Electronic tolling technology is evolving rapidly. How these payment systems might get implemented at the Commission is unknown at this time, but I look forward to working with our team and partners to select applications that could benefit the Commission and its customers.
4. You’re also very involved with the E-ZPass Group. Which directions and opportunities are you most excited about, working with that broader group?
My involvement with the E-ZPass Group has been very rewarding. Interacting with other agencies and learning about their successes and difficulties has enhanced my tolling knowledge and aided in the success of Commission tolling projects. The E-ZPass Group’s recent accomplishments are truly exciting: the HUB procurement, the Next Generation Equipment procurement, and work that is being completed with third-party payment options. The E-ZPass Group’s pilot program with PayByCar is allowing for transponder read payments for vehicle fueling at select North Carolina and Massachusetts gas stations. It’s gratifying to see new programs advance from concept to reality.
The most rewarding part of being involved in the E-ZPass Group is the development of productive relationships. The tolling industry is a small community. It is comforting to know that I can phone or email a contact at another toll agency and gain insights on how to address an issue or challenge at the Commission. Consultants, vendors, and personnel at other toll agencies have always been willing to assist or share their expertise. This inherently collaborative environment of professional relationships is the tolling industry’s greatest unsung attribute.
5. What is your overall advice and what are your wishes for the tolling industry?
First and foremost, we should continue to share our experiences – both the successes and failures – with each other. Such constructive associations are what sets the tolling industry apart in the broader transportation sector. Additionally, embrace emerging technologies. Toll payment technology is evolving rapidly. Learn about it. Explore its potential. Implement it. Finally, be open for changes that will benefit the tolling agency, our nation’s economy, and the customers we collectively serve.