Governor could put MassPike Authority out to pasture

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 11/11/2008

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is reportedly close to announcing a plan to dismantle the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

Patrick has talked about the possibility for months as a way to save money and tackle debts accumulated by the Big Dig tunnel project in Boston. Although nothing is official yet, The Associated Press and Boston Globe reported on Monday, Nov. 10, that Patrick was set to make the announcement this week.

According to media reports, the governor would hand over current turnpike functions to other state agencies.

The governor’s plan, according to the media reports, calls for the portion of the turnpike system west of Exit 128 to fall under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Highway Department. That would mean tolls would be eliminated in those areas.

Tolls would continue to be collected, and likely raised, east of Exit 128. That portion of the turnpike would be taken over by the Massachusetts Port Authority under the plan according to reports.

MassPort would then assume responsibility for paying down billions in debts owed for the Big Dig tunnel project.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Board of Directors is meeting Friday to discuss toll rates.

Officials aren’t saying much about the proposal at this point.

Turnpike officials are continuing to go forward with their own internal restructuring and debt-reduction plan, which includes a reduced administrative staff, eliminating outside consultants for certain operations, and converting four cash lanes at the Allston-Brighton interchanges into electronic tolling lanes.

Turnpike officials said their reform plan has saved $15 million so far.

Gov. Patrick has been working to offset other budget shortfalls at the state level. On Oct. 15, Patrick announced $1 billion in spending cuts and freezes to meet a similar drop in state revenue.

Patrick has asked that all state departments share responsibility in making cuts.

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