Massachusetts bill would expand use of tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 11/13/2017

Electronic tolls on highways surrounding Greater Boston are drawing discussion at the Massachusetts statehouse.

The Bay State now charges users to access the Massachusetts Turnpike and a Boston bridge and two tunnels. All-electronic tolling has been in place since October 2016.

Greater Boston tollsToll collection on the Turnpike, tunnel and Tobin Bridges accounts for about $400 million per year. The state’s 26.5-cent fuel tax rate raises nearly $770 million annually.

Sen. Tom McGee, D-Lynn, says the state’s transportation needs are underfunded by at least $1 billion.

McGee is the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation. The panel met recently to discuss a measure intended to help close the gap.

His bill would require the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to study, develop and begin collecting tolls on more roadway. The legislation identifies sections of Interstates 93 and 95, and along Routes 1 and 2. Tolls would be collected by the end of 2018.

Advocates say highway tolls are straightforward user fees. They contend that the fee system also can reduce congestion.

McGee added that motorists from the North Shore and Metrowest are forced to carry much of the financial burden for raising transportation revenue because they are charged tolls daily to enter the city. He wants people from other areas to chip in to pay.

Rep. David DeCoste, R-Norwell, is opposed to McGee’s toll plan.

“Tolls tend to be a regressive means of taxation,” Decoste told committee members during the hearing. “It falls on the lower-income people much more than it does on wealthier citizens.”

Others say the tolls are simply a money grab.

The bill, S1959, does not specify toll amounts. Rates would be determined following the MassDOT study. Congestion pricing, however, would be utilized.

Toll revenue would be applied for highway improvements and public transit throughout the state. The issuance of bonds also would be authorized for the turnpike or highway system.

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