Turnpike toll system hearings will include one in Lenox on Sept. 15
BOSTON >> Chugging toward an Oct. 28 launch when the advent of all-electronic tolling will require some drivers to pay more and others less, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation plans seven meetings to hear feedback on new rates.
Unlike the current system of charging drivers depending where they enter and exit along the Massachusetts Turnpike, each of the new 16 electronic gantries will charge drivers as they pass below and they have been placed in different locations from the toll plazas. There are currently 26 toll plaza locations.
Adopting the proposed rates would mean some pay less and some pay more, as MassDOT seeks a revenue-neutral structure that conforms to the new geographic alignment of electronic toll-takers.
For drivers with EZPassMA transponders, MassDOT estimates 48.5 percent will see an increase, 46.9 percent will see a decrease, and 4.6 percent will see no change. More than 10 percent will see an increase of 50 cents or more, and 4.9 percent will have a toll removed.
A trip from Natick to downtown Boston would drop by 5 cents, while Natick to Weston would increase by 15 cents, according to a MassDOT presentation. Trips from Newton Corner to Boston would increase 50 cents, while trips from Weston to Boston would fall 30 cents.
For a person driving two ways on the Turnpike every weekday of the year, a 50-cent increase would add up to around $260.
There are 14 gantries between the New York line and Logan Airport, and drivers who have no form of transponder would pay significantly more under the plan, racking up 30-cent fees at each gantry, with costs adding up to $6.10 more than EZPassMA drivers would pay traveling the length of the state.
Drivers without a Massachusetts-issued transponder will miss out on discount that adds up to $1.90 less than EZPassMA drivers for travel over the entirety of Interstate 90 in Massachusetts.
The department is holding hearings Sept. 6 in Worcester's Union Station; Sept. 7 at North Shore Community College in Lynn; Sept. 12 at Newton City Hall; Sept. 13 at Framingham Town Hall; Sept. 14 at Allston's Jackson Mann School; Sept. 14 at Springfield City Hall; and Sept. 15 at MassDOT's highway offices in Lenox. State officials announced the hearing schedule on Wednesday.
A Berkshires lawmaker wants to know why drivers in the Springfield and Worcester areas will receive a break under all-electronic tolling while others along the toll road will continue to pay, and he plans to ask officials about that at the Sept. 15 hearing.
MassDOT officials have noted the gantry locations were determined by the Patrick administration and left unaddressed the philosophy behind leaving areas around the state's second and third largest cities gantry-free.
"What was the rationale behind that? We're building a casino in Springfield," Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli asked the News Service, saying the state appears to be leaving revenue on the table. He said, "I'm not getting answers on why there's no tolls there."
Pignatelli said he favors a new commuter toll discount for drivers who regularly use the turnpike, similar to the discount residents of Charlestown, Chelsea and East Boston receive on tolled roads near them.
The Lenox lawmaker likened his idea to a current discount carpool program - where the vehicle must have three or more passengers for the transponder to be used - although his commuter pass would not include a passenger requirement. The Berkshires Democrat has filed his proposal as a bill (H 4438), which was sent to the legislative graveyard of a study order this session, and he said he plans to ask about the idea and the lack of gantries in Springfield and Worcester when MassDOT holds a hearing in Lenox.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board on Monday moved ahead with plans to demolish the Interstate 90 toll plazas by the end of 2017 as part of the effort to switch to electronic tolling along the turnpike, the Tobin Bridge, and Boston tunnels. Toll plaza removal and reconstruction, excluding the Sumner Tunnel, will cost about $133 million. The cost of designing and building the all-electronic tolling system is about $130 million.
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