Governor nixes Massachusetts Turnpike Authority

| 6/29/2009

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a bill into law that eliminates the state turnpike authority and enacts other sweeping changes to transportation. Toll payers are claiming victory because the law also eliminates the diversion of toll revenue to the Big Dig.

Patrick signed the bill into law on Friday, June 26, consolidating the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and several other agencies into a new Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The governor said the legislation will save the state millions while eliminating political patronage and other long-held complaints associated with the turnpike.

“The meaningful, long-lasting reforms we will make to our state’s transportation system will rebuild public trust and put an end to the old ways of doing business.” Patrick said in a statement.

A conference of the Massachusetts House and Senate agreed to final language of the legislation in mid-June.

Turnpike users involved in a lawsuit against the Turnpike Authority said the new law is a victory against unfair diversion of toll funds to other sources such as the Big Dig.

“Toll payers at last have leaders in the State House who say yes to equity, yes to basic fairness, and no to the inequitable Big Dig burden foisted for too long upon the people of Metro West and the North Shore,” former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger said in a statement.

Harshbarger is co-trustee of the Turnpike Toll Equity Trust fighting on behalf of more than 1,700 plaintiffs. The lawsuit is ongoing.

On Monday, June 29, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority’s board of directors was scheduled to enact a $100 million toll increase. Instead, the board voted to rescind the increase and wait for Gov. Patrick’s reforms to take effect.

The governor will decide soon how he plans to increase transportation revenues. Also, the debts incurred by the Big Dig have not gone away. Patrick has not ruled out an increase in fuel taxes.

– By David Tanner, staff writer