Massachusetts transportation system in a state of flux

| 2/24/2009

The only thing Massachusetts lawmakers and transportation officials can seem to agree on is that the state has a budget shortfall that needs to be addressed.

The question is whether to increase state fuel taxes or adjust toll rates on the Massachusetts Turnpike – or both – in a push to generate more revenue.

Gov. Deval Patrick says neither method will be successful without state agencies making additional cuts.

Patrick stated Friday, Feb. 20, that the state Legislature should consider increasing the state fuel tax by 19 cents per gallon.

Patrick also called for the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to be abolished and for its duties to be consolidated with other agencies under a single transportation umbrella.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was scheduled to vote Tuesday, Feb. 24, to finalize toll increases at several interchanges and in the turnpike’s tunnel system. It was not certain on Tuesday if the vote would be reversed under Patrick’s proposed consolidation plan and calls for a fuel-tax increase.

One thing officials agree on is that the Big Dig tunnel project beneath Boston has mounting debts that need to be dealt with. Opinions continue to differ on ways to pay down those debts.

Nothing will work without widespread reform, Patrick insisted in a prepared statement.

“We are all out of time,” he stated. Now is the time to reform, rebuild and renew our system from top to bottom.”

Patrick said the good news is that Massachusetts lawmakers and agencies have enacted a number of cost-saving measures already and that the state stands to benefit from federal economic stimulus funds.

Patrick recently cut state administrative budgets by 7 percent. The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority ponders an uncertain future even after making additional voluntary cuts to staffing and expenses.

– By David Tanner, staff writer