Gov. Patrick's plan for transportation upgrades includes Berkshire County projects
PITTSFIELD -- Gov. Deval L. Patrick has vowed Berkshire County will get its fair share of the $13 billion he wants to spend over the next decade to upgrade passenger rail service, roads, bridges and public transportation across Massachusetts.
Patrick on Monday unveiled the ambitious 10-year statewide infrastructure plan, but he may not indicate how he would pay for it until his state of the state speech on Wednesday.
But state Department of Transportation officials are proposing a range of options to raise about $1 billion per year to maintain and modernize the state's transportation network. The state's system is heavily in debt because of the Big Dig project in Boston and other past commitments.
The options in the DOT's report presented to Patrick on Monday include hiking the state's gas tax, income or sales taxes, or a new state payroll tax. Another suggestion is taxing people for the number of miles they drive each year.
Patrick's transportation proposal includes several Berkshire County projects, some of which would be bonded over the long-term:
-- $113.8 million to upgrade railroad tracks from Pittsfield to the Connecticut line to support future passenger rail service to New York City.
-- Increasing the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority budget from $1.9 million to $5.1 million for fiscal 2014 starting July 1.
-- Investments in the bike and pedestrian ways along the Mohawk Trail in North Adams and Skyline Trail in Hinsdale.
Along with Western Mas-sachusetts, Berkshire County has long received a disproportionately low percentage of transportation funds compared to Eastern Massachusetts.
In a phone interview with The Eagle on Monday, Patrick said this is a transportation plan that seeks to benefit the entire state.
"It's very, very important to me we have regional equity in our transportation funding throughout the state," he said.
The Legislature would have to approve any tax increases to pay for the plan.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, said she was pleased to hear that the governor wants to be fair-minded about transportation funding.
"My concern is we reduce the disparity for what we get for public transportation," she said.
Patrick also suggested re-instating tolls in the western part of the state to help fund the plan, provided the revenue stays local.
Currently, motorists can travel free-of-charge from Exit 1 in West Stockbridge to Exit 6 near Springfield.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli says he likes the plan, but wishes Patrick had provided details of how to fund the proposal.
"I would have less of an objection to increasing the gasoline tax, if [the Berkshires] could keep what we generate," said the Lenox Democrat. "If we kept a large portion of the money, we could solve every road and bridge problem and fully fund the BRTA," the Berkshire Regional Transpo-rtation Authority.
"Highlighting regional projects shows the [Patrick] administration is listening," said state Sen. Ben Downing. "They realize transportation isn't just a Boston problem."
Patrick pointed out how the proposed transportation expa-nsion projects across the state could lead to job growth.
"They are designed to unlock economic growth and opportunity," he said.
The governor said given current revenue, the state cannot operate the transportation system it has today, let alone the one that it needs.
"Any revenue option will have its detractors and challenges," Downing said. "How-ever, doing nothing is not an option."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
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In the plan
Massachusetts transportation officials on Monday proposed a range of options, including new taxes and fees, to raise about $1 billion per year needed to maintain and modernize public transit, highways, bridges and the rest of the state's transportation network. The options presented in the report included:
-- Raising the state's 21 cents per gallon gasoline tax, which has not changed since 1991. To raise $1 billion a year, the tax would have to be raised by 30 cents per gallon to 51 cents per gallon, making it the highest gas tax in the nation.
-- Raising the state sales tax. To generate $1 billion for transportation, the rate would have to increase from the current 6.25 percent to 7.7 percent.
- Increasing the income tax. An 8 percent increase in the tax, from the current 5.25 percent to 5.66 percent, would generate $1 billion.
- Imposing an annual 2.4 cents per mile "vehicle miles traveled tax." This tax would be collected from vehicle owners during the annual safety inspection, or by use of an onboard device that records the miles the vehicle travels in a year.
- Imposing a so-called green fee, based upon a vehicle's
-- Regular and frequent increases in public transit fares, tolls and other so-called user fees. For example, MBTA fares and Massachusetts Turnpike tolls would climb 5 percent every two years.
-- Associated Press
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