Massachusetts Turnpike drivers
would get a break in tolls under a new plan by Gov. Mitt Romney to merge the
Turnpike Authority with the state highway department and pass the savings onto
Romney will unveil the plan during
his annual State of the State speech Thursday night. The plan is a variation of
a long-standing proposal by the Republican governor to bring the independent
authority under the control of state government.
Unlike previous versions, Romney
now wants to use any savings from the merger – which he pegs at $170 million
this year and $20 million annually – to cut tolls instead of adding it to the
state’s general fund.
The Turnpike’s board would decide
how to hand out the money, but Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom suggested to The
Boston Globe that toll relief could come in several ways, including: an
extension of the current Fast Lane discount at certain tolls, which is supposed
to be temporary; a delay in an unspecified toll increase scheduled for 2008; or
a break targeted for drivers in Central and Western Massachusetts.
Romney’s toll-relief plan is a bid
to sway skeptical lawmakers, especially those who represent communities along
the roadway, who have repeatedly rejected his previous efforts to merge the
authority and the highway department.
In the past, lawmakers have balked
at the merger saying it would require the state to take on the Turnpike’s debt.
But the governor’s latest plan would keep the Turnpike’s debt separate.