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Prepping for peaking Pike tolls, and the temporary fate of Amtrak

Posted by Nichole Davis  October 1, 2013 12:36 AM

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While the countdown most people have been talking about is the one for the government shutdown, Western Massachusetts residents who are frequent users of the Mass Pike are dreading another upcoming date: October 15th.

That's the date tolls will begin to be collected between Exits 1 and 6 -- it will now cost you $1.75 to travel between 291 and the New York state line, and $5.85 to travel the entire length of the Pike. Don't forget, though -- there's a special step you have to take if you're a Western Massachusetts resident who already uses EZ-Pass.

Before we get into that, though, let's talk quickly about the return of the tolls in Western Massachusetts. It was a controversial part of the $500 million transportation funding package that was recently pushed through. It's set to infuse the state with $12 million in additional revenue - this, according to WWLP. Administrator Frank DePaola says the majority of that revenue will be used to fix ailing roadways in that part of the state.

From the State House News Service:

That new revenue could be spent anywhere along the interstate west of I-95, though DePaola presented a list of deficiencies, such as a rusting culvert and a crumbling bridge, that need repair in the westernmost part of the state... Asked about the administration's priorities for funding projects, [Transportation Secretary Richard] Davey said "we don't have a choice" regarding repairs to the Springfield Viaduct.

DePaola says the tolls will be the same rates that were in place back in 1996 when collections stopped on the far western end of the Pike. There's been some public meetings regarding a possible commuter rate as well, but one hasn't been published by the DOT at the time of this writing. Good (?) news is that, in a few years, when the state finishes tearing down all the toll booths on the Pike and implementing all-electronic tolling, shorter trips between exits 4 and 6 might become free again. At the very least, there will reportedly be flat fares between various exits.

Anyway, if you're already an EZ-Pass user, keep in mind that you might want to check to make sure your transponder will still work. See, if you have one of the orange "non-revenue" transponders, the DOT says it will be necessary to turn it in and exchange it for a new one. Every one of those orange transponders will no longer work after October 15th, so you'd essentially just have a dead piece of plastic on your windshield if you kept it anyway.

Dates and locations for transponder exchanges and signups can be found here.

Are you a Western Massachusetts resident who uses the Pike on a regular basis? What are your thoughts on the return of tolling between 291 and the state line? Do you plan to seek alternate routes to and from school, work, or elsewhere? Will you be signing up for the new transponders?

(Another little nugget of information I hadn't realized - the EZPass program is apparently 20 years old this year. Has it really been that long? Egad...)
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By the by, with the arrival of the federal government shutdown (temporary as we hope it may be), you might be wondering how Amtrak services are going to be affected. After all, it's already been a rough past week or so for the agency here in the Northeast, what with that power problem crippling service and essentially shutting down the Acela (which is running limited service as of yesterday, by the way).

A statement released by Amtrak reads:

“Amtrak will continue normal operation of its national intercity and high-speed passenger rail network in the event of a short-term federal government shutdown. Passengers planning to travel on Amtrak trains in the Northeast Corridor and across the country in the coming days and weeks can be assured that Amtrak will remain open for business.”

So, while you still might not be able to get there quite on time, at least you can still ... go.
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A question I recently received in my inbox...
"I recently went to the MassDOT website to check out the traffic cameras and noticed that so many of them weren't even working. Who's in charge of maintaining these? Is there ever going to be a point when all of them are in service? Do they plan to make an app or something to make viewing easier for mobile users?"

As a traffic reporter, of course traffic cameras are a major resource for us to get our reports as accurate as possible. Obviously we're not the only ones that use them -- not only do people check them out before leaving the house, but they're helpful to police and highway workers to pin down crashes or problems in the road that have to be taken care of.

I passed this on to Sara Lavoie over at MassDOT. She was a traffic reporter at one point as well, so I know she understands the necessity of the cameras. She says the Communications Department at the DOT is the group responsible for keeping the cameras up and running. If they hear of an out of service camera, they reportedly log the information they receive and send someone out to fix the ailing machine.

Lavoie says sometimes camera repair takes longer than usual because they have to go through the process of not only diagnosing what's up with the camera, but also ordering the parts, scheduling work crews, closing lanes, and "limited resources" ... not to mention that you can't easily repair a camera in the middle of a rainstorm or snowstorm.

And, for what it's worth, just before writing this I checked out the camera site -- all but one are back up and running. So thanks, repair people, for getting on that!

While the cameras are a great resource to have, it would certainly be nice to have a few more of them -- especially in some well-traveled areas that are, suprisingly, without coverage. Some of those areas are:

  • The lower end of Route 3 (Braintree to Plymouth) - Cape traffic!
  • Route 24 from Stoughton to Fall River - accident prone area
  • Mass Pike between Route 30 and 495, as well as by 290 and 84
  • Route 6 between the Sagamore Bridge and Exit 4 in Sandwich
  • The lower end of 128 between Great Plain Avenue and 24 (although the lack of cameras there could be due to the widening project)
  • Route 2 between Alewife and 128
  • 93 between 495 and the New Hampshire state line

I'll put in some questions to see if there are plans for cameras in any of those areas. By the way, to answer the question re: mobile users... Lavoie simply says "stay tuned... something is in the works." My curiosity is piqued.
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MBTA Matters

No stranger to busing are Red Line riders... plan ahead, as more shuttling is coming up for a variety of projects. (Three of them, actually - the Clayton Street Bridge work, Columbia Junction Project, and, of course, the Longfellow shutdown.)

Here's the upcoming busing schedule, which will keep you inconvenienced, somewhat, until pretty much Christmas. Keep in mind the busing affects both inbound and outbound trains:

  • October 12-14: JFK/UMass - Ashmont (through Monday, Columbus Day)
  • October 19-20: Broadway - JFK/UMass
  • October 26-27: Kendall/MIT - Park Street
  • November 2-3: Kendall/MIT - Park Street
  • November 8-10: JFK/UMass - Broadway (beginning 9 p.m. Friday)
  • November 16-17: JFK/UMass - North Quincy
  • November 23-24: Kendall/MIT - Park Street
  • December 7-8: Broadway - JFK/UMass
  • December 14-15: Broadway - JFK/UMass
  • December 21-22: Broadway - JFK/UMass
--- You'll find slowdowns here...

Expressway / O'Neill Tunnel southbound

The ramp from Congress Street to the Expressway southbound will close Wednesday and Thursday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM.

++ COMPLETE CLOSURE ++ of 93 south from Exit 28 (Sullivan Square) to Exit 20 (Mass Pike) from 11:45 PM to 5:00 AM. This incudes on-ramps from Leverett Circle, Essex Street, Haymarket Square, Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square. Follow detours.

Expressway / O'Neill Tunnel northbound

The ramps from Cross Street and the Sumner Tunnel to the O'Neill Tunnel will close on Tuesday and Wednesday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM.

The Leverett Connector outbound and the ramp from the Sumner Tunnel to Storrow Drive will close Thursday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM.

The ramp from Frontage Road northbound to the Expressway will close Wednesday and Thursday from 11:30 PM to 5:00 AM.

Closure of the ramp from exit 26 to I-93 NB and the ramp from Sumner Tunnel to Storrow Drive on Monday, September 29, 2013 and Thursday, October 3, 2013 from the hours of 11:30 PM to 5 AM

Mass Pike eastbound

++ COMPLETE CLOSURE ++ each night at Prudential Center / Copley Square (Exit 22) Tuesday through Friday from 11:00 PM to 5:00 AM.

Mass Pike westbound

The entrance to the Pike westbound from Route 1A south will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday from 11:45 PM to 5:00 AM. Traffic will be diverted through Logan Airport to enter the Ted Williams Tunnel.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Nichole Davis is a Boston-based traffic reporter and news anchor. She’s been seen and heard on television and radio airwaves across New England since 2003, providing commuters with all the More »

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