Mass. Pike public hearing primer

unluckyhatIn case you missed it, the state wants to take down the tollbooths on the Massachusetts Turnpike [$].  Sounds good, right?  Should’ve been done in 1988 when the original bonds were paid off, but then bonds were reissued to help fund the “Big Dig” in Boston and other various projects.  The newer bonds will be paid off in 2017, so is that why the toll booths will be going away?

No.

The toll booths would be eliminated and replaced with a completely electronic system.  They envision that most drivers would pay tolls using the EZ-Pass transponder — but what about those who usually pay cash?  Their license plate number would be captured electronically and they’d be sent a bill for the tolls, at a higher rate than those charged to the EZ-Pass users.  Not the driver, mind you, but rather whoever the car is registered to.  It remains to be seen how they’ll handle things like rental cars, taxis, etc.

Governor Patrick recently said “By current law those tolls come down in 2017, and the people who pay them have been assured they will come down.”  But despite those fine words, with this new electronic toll scheme, it looks like the state plans to keep charging folks to drive the Pike, despite the bonds being retired in a few years. Despite the Turnpike Authority having been absorbed by MassHighway (now MassDOT) and maintained much like other interstate highways.

There will be a hearing tomorrow night at city hall at 6:00 p.m. regarding this plan to replace tollbooths with electronic payment collection.  If you have concerns and/or questions about this plan, you should try to attend this hearing, as there are only two scheduled (the other one’s in Springfield).

Some questions you might like to consider before the meeting:

1. Why are we making plans to continue collecting tolls after 2017?

2. Why, when these bonds are being retired, is the state considering reinstituting tolls at exits 1 through 6 in western Massachusetts?

3. How is it fair to charge the owner of a vehicle inflated tolls if he/she wasn’t even driving the vehicle?

4. With only a few years of bond debt left, does it make sense to lay off hundreds of toll collectors in the midst of a recession?  Why not keep them in place until the bonds are paid off?  Part of what the Pike collects already pays for these toll collectors anyway.

5. If the Pike is now part of MassDOT, shouldn’t its future upkeep be budgeted and paid for under the MassDOT instead of through tolls?

Regardless of how you feel about the concept of electronic toll collection, there are a lot of unanswered questions out there.  Tomorrow may be your only chance to ask them.

Show up at city hall tomorrow at 6:00 and make yourself heard.

If you have larger concerns about keeping/expanding tolls after the bonds are paid 2017, you may find the organizers of tomorrow’s meeting dodging your questions.  If so, contact your state legislator and make him/her aware of your feelings & concerns.

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