Residents of Western Massachusetts have received a free ride on the Massachusetts Turnpike between Exit 1 and Exit 6 for 17 years. Providing them a discount once tolls are re-established on October 15, as was suggested by some residents at a public hearing in Lee Tuesday, defeats the purpose of restoring the tolls and invites drivers in the rest of the state to seek similar self-defeating breaks.
By restoring the tolls, the state hopes to receive an extra $12 million annually, most of it from drivers who are now passing through the Berkshires on their way to or from Eastern Massachusetts for free. The money will be mandated for Western Massachusetts, and the turnpike bridges, and to a lesser extent the turnpike itself, are in dire need of repairs and upgrades.
The turnpike tolls are supposed to be removed from Route 128 westward at the end of 2016, depriving the state of a giant chunk of revenue. Governor Patrick's request that lawmakers anticipate this by raising revenue elsewhere fell on deaf ears. Tolls likely will remain to generate funds for transportation and because residents inside of Route 128 will claim they are being singled out. When that day comes, a bad precedent will have been set if residents in the west have gotten a discount on tolls. When the tolls are returned between Exit 1 and Exit 6, all who use the turnpike between those exits should pay equally, in the process contributing to the upkeep of a highway they rely upon.