Our Opinion: For whom the pike tolls
It appears that Gov. Deval Patrick is reconciled to the failure of his amendment that would add funding to the Legislature's transportation bill. He will evidently veto it on principle with the understanding that the veto will be overridden, and he acknowledged Thursday that the bill adding $630 million in transportation funding constitutes progress on a neglected front. But the problems the governor attempted to address are looming and inching closer.
The gas tax will increase by three cents in the transportation bill, but the governor proposed a further increase in anticipation of a significant loss of revenue coming in 2017 when the Massachusetts Turnpike tolls west of the Route 95 interchange are to be removed. The House and Senate did not approve the governor's amendment, but as state Sen. Benjamin Downing, a Pittsfield Democrat, observed in Friday's Boston Globe: "In the absence of certainty on those tolls, there will be an impact on capital projects in the future."
Restoring the turnpike tolls from Exit 1 through 6 on the western end of the turnpike through the Berkshires was discussed but didn't gain traction. The tolls came down 17 years ago, giving out of state drivers a free pass through the western end of the state. This is of modest benefit to Berkshire drivers while depriving the state of an estimated $15 million in desperately needed revenue. What made no sense 17 years ago still doesn't.
When it becomes law, the transportation bill will address real highway and bridge needs, and the governor and Legislature are to be credited. But sooner or later, the toll issue must be addressed.
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