Group wants tolls on existing Boston interstates; state official says no

| 1/13/2005

An environmental advocacy group has called for adding tolls to some existing interstates in the Boston area to pay for transportation work, but a state official has said that the plan is dead on arrival.

Philip Warburg, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, called for the new tolls on Interstate 93 and the Southeast Expressway as a way to pay for transit improvements. He spoke during a press conference Jan. 12.

“If additional funds are needed, the Commonwealth should look to the car commuters who benefit most directly from the billions spent on the Big Dig and other highway projects,” Warburg said. “Those who ride the T pay for their mobility. Why should car commuters not be called upon to do the same?

“Commuters who come into the city via the Pike, the Tobin Bridge, or the airport tunnels pay a fee for the roadways they use. Why should commuters traveling on I-93 and the Southeast Expressway be exempt? Highway tolls could help pay for the transit commitments.”

However, the “transit commitments” listed by Warburg’s group include mainly commuter rail projects, such as the Green Line extension to Medford, connecting the Red and Blue lines at Charles/MGH and restoration of rail along the Arborway in Jamaica Plain.

And that, according to one state official, is why the plan will not work.

Jon Carlisle – a spokesman for the state’s transportation secretary, Daniel A. Grabauskas, – told The Boston Globe that under current federal rules, tolls must be spent on the roads where they are paid.

“The money has to go back into the road they’re on. It can’t go toward transit or health care or education,” Carlisle told The Globe. “That’s a concrete and unbendable federal law.”

Warburg’s organization was holding the press conference to announce it had filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to force the completion of a series of public transit projects that they say the state promised. During his press conference, Warburg said his group would be joined in the suit by the cities of Somerville and Medford and the Arborway Committee.