25 Investigates

25 Investigates: Taxpayers on the hook millions more for electronic tolling

BOSTON — Taxpayers already forked over hundreds of millions for a new electronic tolling system – which logged thousands of problems with cameras, sensors and other equipment in just a few short months – and now 25 Investigates has learned the public is on the hook for even more money.

The state quietly paid another $10 million to Raytheon, the contractor who built the new system, and the bill to taxpayers could go even higher, 25 Investigates uncovered.

That money is on top of the $130 million in public money Raytheon already received to build the new electronic tolling system, which went live on the Mass Pike last fall.

MassDOT paid another contractor, TransCore, $200 million in tax dollars to handle billing and collections for the new pay-by-plate system.

But Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen obtained internal reports that raise questions about how well the new electronic tolling system is actually working and found some cameras completely down.

MassDOT received more than 6,200 alerts just from November through the end of February about problems with cameras, sensors and other tolling equipment.

That’s an average of 51 alerts for problems a day.

The state could not say how many times electronic tolling cameras have been down, but 25 Investigates found one case that police say cost them a chance to solve a crime.

In October, a thief wearing a Yankees cap came into Steve Vaccaro’s Chelsea jewelry store, The Gold Mine, and stole two gold chains worth thousands of dollars. Employees gave chase and were able to spot the thief’s car and get a partial description as he drove off on the Tobin Bridge.

Police told Vaccaro they believed they had a chance at catching the jewelry thief because all-electronic tolling cameras, license plate readers and other equipment had been in use on the Tobin Bridge since 2014.

"We were hoping that was a great lead. The police thought that was our way to catch him," said Vaccaro.
But months later, the search for the thief hit a surprising dead end.

In an email to Vaccaro, detectives said MassDOT reported “all of the video and plate readers on that day were not operational.”

“I can't say enough how frustrating it is to hear their cameras are down when they spent all this money to put this system up and it's not working,” Vaccaro told 25 Investigates.

MassDOT Director of Tolling Stephen Collins spoke to 25 Investigates’ Eric Rasmussen in March about the problems with the pay-by-plate tolling system and customer service.

“Both systems provide us reports every single day,” said Collins. “Both systems provide us with alerts when something has gone – whether it’s an outage of some kind, a lane or electricity. We get those alarms all the time.”

It’s unclear how many cars are getting free rides as a result, but a public records request by 25 Investigates revealed why hundreds of thousands of toll photos have been thrown out, including the full plate not in the picture and license plates that are blurry, bright or too dark.

More than 125,000 unusable images were listed under “lane equipment failure” in just the first four months.

Yet MassDOT told 25 Investigates it has no record of any problems on the Tobin Bridge on the day Vaccaro’s jewelry store was robbed.

It all has Vaccaro wondering how many more problems on the new system have not been detected and just how much it’s really costing taxpayers.

“How are they keeping track of all of these people if their stuff isn't working?,” said Vaccaro.

Raytheon declined comment, deferring to MassDOT.

MassDOT told 25 Investigates it’s still fine tuning the new tolling system. The agency says it has processed more than 230 million electronic tolls with a 99 percent accuracy rate.