LEE -- Commuters, shoppers, workers and other drivers were not thrilled about a reinstated travel toll that went into effect Tuesday on the western end of the Massachusetts Turnpike.
The toll affects Exit 1 in West Stockbridge to Exit 6 in Springfield.
The tolls were discontinued in 1996 under former Gov. William Weld, but brought back this spring by the state legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick. The state says the tolls help pay for millions of dollars worth of MassPike projects needed to keep the transit artery open.
For those driving the full stretch of western Massachusetts exits, it will cost $1.75 each way; the same cost as it was 17 years ago.
"I hate it," said Ron Lombard of West Springfield.
Lombard manages the Lindt Chocolate store at Lee Premium Outlets and commutes to work every day. With the renewed toll, it will cost him $2.10 a day, more than $500 a year, to get from the Westfield exit to Lee.
Lombard said he might take Route 20 to avoid the toll, though it could add another 30 minutes to an hour each day for his commute.
"It definitely means I'm not going to stop on the Pike to get coffee," he said. "It's gonna affect business too. I've talked to a couple customers and they said they're going to the Holyoke Mall."
Lombard thinks the toll will discourage New York shoppers, who are attracted to the outlet mall for its discounted prices and lower sales tax.
"It's one more hassle for my customers," he said.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said the state has been "in desperate need" of the toll money in order to fund millions of dollars worth of road repair, bridge work and turnpike infrastructure.
The annual cost of maintaining the western section of the Massachusetts Turnpike is more than $30 million, Pignatelli said.
He said the reinstated tolls are expected to generate about $15 million.
"I have no problem with it," Pignatelli said. "I've been very vocal about it."
The original tolls, he added, "should have never been taken down."
The tolls were a compromise to a proposal by Patrick to raise the gas tax to 30 cents, Pignatelli said. It was raised by 3 cents instead.
The state representative said the tolls are more fair than charging a tax for all residents, regardless of how often they drive over the turnpike.
The funds raised from the toll must be used for just the western portion of the toll road. They can't be used for other sections or the state's general fund, Pignatelli said.
Nancy Gleason, of Lee, said her husband commutes to Chicopee every day.
"I think it's very hard on the commuters," she said.
Standing outside a Shell gas station in Lee near Exit 2, Gleason said "they are not even giving commuters a break, which I think is very difficult."
And, she added, "you don't see any increase in pay."
Pignatelli said he plans to introduce legislation this week to offer a toll discount for Berkshire County residents who travel out of the county for work. The commuter discount would be similar to those received by residents of East Boston, Charlestown and Chelsea, he said.
He has spoken with state Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey about such a discount, but said Davey was not receptive to the proposal.
Patricia Hewitt of Pittsfield said she will likely avoid the tolls by driving on Route 9 to get to Amherst, where her son goes to college.
"If they're gonna repair the roads and use the money appropriately it's fine," Hewitt said. "But if the money gets squandered ..."
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