Masspike to cease, fuel tax increases loom

| 4/8/2009

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority could soon cease to exist as we know it.

State House lawmakers voted on Tuesday, April 7, to abolish the authority and consolidate highway and transportation agencies under one umbrella to be called the Massachusetts Transportation and Infrastructure Authority. The state Senate passed a similar bill on March 25.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced that he planned to sign the legislation once a conference committee of state representatives and senators finalized the language.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association applauded the governor’s reform effort, but there’s a second half to the story.

Patrick is urging lawmakers to increase the state tax on motor fuels by an unprecedented 19 cents per gallon from 23.5 cents to 42.5 cents.

An increase of that magnitude would vault Massachusetts into having the second-highest diesel tax rate behind California’s 47.6 cents, which includes a state sales tax.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said truckers could tolerate a tax increase if tolls are rescinded and measures of accountability are built in.

“While we think 19 cents is a pretty hefty bite, if the exchange is to get rid of tolls then I would say the state is moving in the right direction,” Spencer told Land Line.

Lawmakers were planning to debate the fuel-tax issue once Patrick signed the agency reform legislation.

Patrick called the level of neglect in the state’s transportation system “shocking” and called for an end to the “Big Dig culture” of neglect and public dissatisfaction.

“We have a large backlog of structurally deficient bridges and a long list of other critical but neglected projects,” Patrick told a town hall meeting early in the spring.

Patrick’s proposed19-cent tax increase would be applied to a turnpike toll rollback. It would also fund transit authorities and target both rural and urban road and rail projects. He hopes the plan will save the state $2.5 billion over 20 years.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority would be allowed to operate until mid-2010, when the new agency, controlled by a five-member board appointed by the governor, takes the helm.

– By David Tanner, staff writer