In a drive to go cashless, construction crews have begun to remove the old-school tollbooths planted along Orange County's vast network of toll lanes.
A metal-and-glass tollbooth on the San Joaquin Hills toll road, which winds along coastal Orange County, was symbolically plucked from the highway's toll plaza Thursday, the first step in switching the pay-to-drive highway to a cashless system.
Come May, at a specific date still to be determined, traffic on all Orange County toll roads will be routed through automated lanes, where customers can make payments with the existing FasTrak transponders or the new ExpressAccounts, which can be pre-paid, hooked to a credit card or generate monthly bills that are mailed to motorists.
The booths, each measuring nearly 19 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 11 feet deep, were originally conceived by California Corridor Constructors in the early 1990s. The designers wanted to keep in mind motorists' safety while also maintaining local aesthetics, said Lori Olin, spokeswoman for the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which oversees the entire network of tollways.
"Before the toll roads were built in Orange County, toll plazas had typically been unpleasant places," she wrote in an email.
But the builders found a way around the standard unpleasantness, Olin explained, by reducing pollution effects, secluding the toll plaza visually from surrounding communities and designing unique, minimalist structures.
Michael Harper, 58, operations manager for cash operations for Central Parking System, which employs those who work in the booths, said he was there when the toll booths first opened in 1996. And on Thursday, he was there when the first booth was removed.
Now, Harper said, many of the 85 employees who work and manage the booths throughout Orange County are expected to move on to new jobs.