New toll in Newton will raise turnpike travel costs for some
NEWTON >> Drivers hopping on the Massachusetts Turnpike in Newton will pay more to head into Boston under proposed toll rates, an added cost that some hope will reduce traffic in the city.
Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem, a Newton Democrat, said she was pleased that drives on the turnpike from West Newton to Newton Corner will be newly tolled with the hope that it would reduce cut-through traffic.
Transportation officials said an analysis of drivers who enter Interstate 90 eastbound at West Newton suggests they may be cutting through Newton neighborhoods to avoid the current Weston toll at the junction with Interstate 95.
"I'm happy that we're going to deter people," Creem told reporters outside a public hearing Monday on proposed rates for the newly installed electronic tolling system set to go live Oct. 28.
Alice Leary, a Newton city councilor who represents the Newton Corner and Nonantum villages, said residents have told her the "new toll rates will be unfairly impacting their daily commutes."
While tolls for 51.5 percent of drivers are projected to remain the same or decrease, motorists heading onto Interstate 90 at West Newton for trips into downtown Boston would pay 70 cents more each way, the largest increase under the proposed new rates.
"We recognize that Newton is taking a hit. There's no other way to say it than that," Highway Administrator Tom Tinlin told the crowd of about 30 gathered at Newton City Hall on Monday night.
The new system of overhead, camera-equipped gantries replacing the old toll plazas will do away with the tolls at the interchange between interstates 95 and 90 in Weston, according to Jared Kadich, chief of staff for the Massachusetts Highway administration. Kadich told reporters the Weston toll has essentially been moved westward and a new toll has been placed between West Newton and Newton Corner.
The Weston tolls also demarcate two separate highway systems — the Metropolitan Highway System and the Western Turnpike — which are required to keep their toll revenues separate for use on each particular stretch of roadway, according to MassDOT.
Tinlin has pointed out the gantry locations were determined by the administration of Gov. Deval Patrick, and he said newly tolling drivers between West Newton and Newton Corner will have a benefit of reducing drivers cutting through the Garden City to take advantage of the discount.
"I have to give credit to the previous administration," Tinlin told the crowd, saying the new toll reduces the incentive for shortcuts through the city. He said data collected from the gantries over the summer shows that of the 11,500 drivers who get onto I-90 eastbound at West Newton daily, only 6 percent were registered to addresses in Newton, suggesting much of the remaining 94 percent is cut-through traffic.
Creem said former Gov. Bill Weld, now the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate, removed tolls in West Newton, and the new gantry will essentially reinstall that charge — costing 20 cents for drivers who obtain E-ZPass transponders from Massachusetts — for a roughly 2.5-mile stretch of interstate between exits 16 and 17. Creem said she hoped the change would reduce backups at the Newton Corner exit.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, who lives in Newton, did not attend Monday's meeting, but met with the City Council about the changes last week, according to MassDOT spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard.
Other residents raised concerns about the increased charges. Marie McMullen told the transportation officials the cost of her commute would increase by $1.40 per day.
Ernest Loewenstein suggested offering discounted toll rates for Newton residents — something MassDOT provides to residents of East Boston, Chelsea and Charlestown.
Tinlin told reporters most of the concerns he has heard at hearings have been about privacy. MassDOT officials have said the new gantries will not be used to ticket drivers for speeding and data will only be retained as long as it is useful for collecting charges from drivers.
Other concerns have been raised about the ability for the gantries to flag specific vehicles on a "hot list." Tinlin said that would likely be restricted to alerts about missing people, such as an Amber alert, or for an "imminent threat to public safety," and he told reporters once a policy is developed it would be shared with the public.