The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority took a safe path this week by adopting a toll increase based on a scheduled rate not adjusted for mounting Big Dig expenses.
The authority’s Board of Directors voted Thursday, Oct. 4, in favor of a 25-cent increase that did not to go beyond a 2002 scheduled amount. Mounting debts and excess costs associated with the $14.8 billion Big Dig project have the state in a pickle, which could have caused tolls to go much higher.
A turnpike spokesman told Land Line the toll increase of 25 cents for passenger vehicles – and 25 cents per axle for heavy trucks – is an “interim solution.”
“Secretary Bernard Cohen, who chairs the board, said it will require the Turnpike to find efficiencies (and) cut operating expenses by 5 percent, and by using some of the $91 million in the Pike’s cash reserves,” spokesman Mac Daniel said.
“He also said a long-range plan to restructure how transportation agencies are structured in Massachusetts will help in the future, but if that effort does not happen in the next year, another toll hike will be necessary.”
Gov. Deval Patrick made headlines this week by saying he wants to do away with the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and create a new state agency to oversee all ground transportation.
The possible consolidation would include the turnpike authority, the Massachusetts Highway Department and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The new agency also would assume control of roadways and bridges currently operated by the Department of Conservation and Massachusetts Port Authority.
The new agency would be called the Massachusetts Transportation Authority, or MassTrans for short, and the governor would appoint the new board.
Airports, railways and ports, which have their own agencies, would remain separate from MassTrans.
The governor, according to the Boston Herald, said he believes the consolidation would cut waste, avoid the need for a fuel-tax increase and lead to the refinance of $10 billion in debts to right the ship.
The Massachusetts Transportation Finance Commission reported Sept. 17 that state lawmakers need to cut $2.45 billion in costs and generate $18.73 billion in additional revenue to cancel out a projected $19 billion transportation shortfall projected during the next 20 years.
The commission recommended a fuel-tax increase of 11.5 cents from 21.5 cents to 33 cents per gallon, but Patrick’s administration believes the tax increase could be avoided.
– By David Tanner, staff writer