The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority will cease to be as of Nov. 1, but don’t expect tolls to go away any time soon.
A number of state transportation agencies will get a fresh start under a major transportation reform bill signed into law in June by Gov. Deval Patrick.
For starters, the Turnpike Authority and several other agencies will be consolidated under one new agency called MassDOT.
Management positions, budgets and benefits will be trimmed during the consolidation to free up some needed cash.
MassDOT’s charge is to manage highways, transit, aeronautics and the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
At the helm will be Jeffrey Mullan. Patrick brought him into the fray in September to lead the Turnpike Authority to the chopping block.
Mullan was an architect of the Patrick reform plan. He and current Massachusetts Transportation Secretary James Aloisi Jr. are in charge of enacting the reforms and operating the new MassDOT.
“November 1 marks a historic turning point for Massachusetts as we transition to a more open and accountable transportation organization that prioritizes efficiency, customer service and public safety and encourages innovation and creativity,” Mullan recently stated.
Taxpayers and highway users view the reforms as beneficial considering the alternatives – toll and tax hikes.
A group of toll payers – including some OOIDA members – filed a lawsuit earlier this year to demand toll equity on the Massachusetts Turnpike. They are demanding that toll revenue stay with the Turnpike and not be siphoned away for debt-ridden projects like the Big Dig in Boston.
“They still haven’t totally acknowledged the toll equity issue,” plaintiff Bob Ackley told Land Line on Wednesday, Oct. 14.
“They’re still charging the toll payers for the Big Dig. They need to drop the toll rates to reflect that 60 cents of every dollar is going to the Big Dig.”
The plaintiffs have already lost one battle in Middlesex Superior Court when a judge denied a request to force the Turnpike to take immediate action, but the plaintiffs’ appeal was pending this week.
Ackley said the overall reform effort in Massachusetts is pleasing to the average highway user.
“I think it will be better overall to get rid of the Turnpike Authority. Getting rid of that monster is a good thing,” he said.
But even if toll equity and diversion are eventually addressed, the state’s transportation and funding woes are far from over.
The governor has not ruled out increasing the fuel tax by as much as 19 cents per gallon, while the battle over possible toll increases has simmered but remains on the back burner.
– By David Tanner, staff writer