Massachusetts lawmakers discuss privatizing turnpike

| 12/3/2008

A legislative panel in Massachusetts met Wednesday, Dec. 3, to discuss transportation funding options, including the possibility of leasing the Massachusetts Turnpike to private investors.

The Massachusetts Legislature Joint Transportation Committee, co-chaired by Sen. Steve Baddour, D-Methuen, and Rep. Joseph Wagner, D-Chicopee, called four hearings to discuss funding options.

Hearing topics include public-private partnerships, Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to merge transportation agencies, proposals to increase state fuel taxes and/or Massachusetts Turnpike tolls, and a review of recommendations made by the state Transportation Finance Commission.

“We both have concerns and reservations about increasing the state gas tax and increasing tolls to the level proposed by the Turnpike Authority before instituting a comprehensive package of transportation reforms,” the lawmakers said in a statement.

“Any discussion of increased taxes and tolls has to be done in the context of broader and all-inclusive reforms. We hope that this series of hearings will begin to make this process more transparent.”

The first hearing was Wednesday, Dec. 3, at the State House to discuss the pros and cons of public-private partnerships for the Massachusetts Turnpike, including the Big Dig tunnels in Boston.

The remaining three hearings are all at the State House, 24 Beacon St., in Boston.

The next hearing is set for 11 a.m., Tuesday, Dec. 9, to discuss the status of Gov. Deval Patrick’s reform plans.

The committee is scheduled to next meet at 11 a.m., Dec. 17, to discuss tolls and fuel taxes, and the final hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m., Jan. 6, 2009, to discuss recommendations made by the Transportation Finance Commission.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority recently called for tolls to increase from the current rate of $3.50 to $7 at the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels. A $1.25 toll for passenger vehicles at the Allston-Brighton and Weston toll plazas would increase to $2 under the proposal.

Massachusetts Turnpike officials have called four public hearings of their own to discuss toll increases. Those are Dec. 10 in Boston, Dec. 15 in Lynn, Dec. 17 in Framingham, and Jan. 7 in Worcester to discuss toll increases. Click here for times and locations and to submit written comments on the toll proposal.

– By David Tanner, staff writer