Board debates toll hike

Thursday, June 21
BOSTON — Less than a year after proposals to eliminate some tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike were discussed, the board that oversees the highway is looking at plans to possibly raise tolls during peak commuting times.

The "rush hour" tolls were just one idea floated by the Turnpike Authority board at Tuesday's meeting. Other ideas included the creation of toll express lanes that would allow Fast Lane users to pass through at normal highway speeds, and a system of videos cameras to record license plate numbers and send bills to drivers without transponders.

The express lanes would allow vehicles with transponders to cruise through tolls at highway speeds, instead of having to slow down to 15 mph as is now required.

The proposals will "change the way we do business and dramatically improve overall operations," Turnpike Chairman John Cogliano said.

The Romney administration late last year proposed removing most tolls, but that now appears to be off the table entirely.

Lawmakers also have filed several bills proposing to end tolls or to give discounts to commuters from the western suburbs, who claim they are paying an unfair share of the Big Dig's $14.8 billion price tag.

"We'd better be prepared to collect tolls on the Turnpike for a while," said Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen, who will become chairman of the Turnpike board July 1. "We have to look at all of the ways in which we can ... price our services more efficiently."

Final decisions on the changes will be influenced by findings of the state's Transportation Finance Commission, which plans this summer to issue recommendations that could include higher tolls, the privatization of state transportation or a gas tax increase, Cohen said.

The proposals to change the tolling system are part of a broader review of the way the state pays for an estimated $19 billion transportation funding deficit over the next 20 years.

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