Thursday, 4:30 PM
Officials trade barbs over Pike tolls
By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff
Thomas H. Trimarco, state secretary of administration and finance and a Romney appointee to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board, blasted the state inspector general today, claiming he had issued "misinformation" and "unfounded allegations" about the impact of removing tolls from the turnpike west of Route 128.
"Frankly, I am surprised that you would not be more deliberative and thoughtful on a matter of public significance," Trimarco said in a letter to Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan. "Your letter can only be viewed as an insincere, politically-motivated attempt to protect a bloated and inefficient authority and the patronage jobs that are involved."
Trimarco said Sullivan falsely boosted the amount that tolls on the turnpike east of Route 128 and in the Boston Harbor tunnels would have to increase if tolls on the western turnpike were eliminated. He also said Sullivan incorrectly said the process the board was using to remove the tolls was illegal.
Jack McCarthy, senior assistant inspector general, said in response today that "our letter disclosed secret plans for a massive toll increase on Boston commuters to pay for the dismantling of Western Turnpike tolls, an increase that the administration had hidden from the public."
He said the Romney administration continues to "hide key details of this plan by failing to release the information we asked them to make public in our letter. That is an embarrassment."
McCarthy did not address the specifics of Trimarco's claims.
On Wednesday, the Turnpike Authority board delayed a final vote to remove the tolls, while agreeing to move forward.
The plan to abolish the tolls on June 30 was announced weeks before the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election and viewed by critics as an attempt to bolster the faltering campaign of Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. The plan has since come under severe criticism from environmentalists and labor leaders.
Under the Romney administration plan, tolls would be eliminated along the 72 miles of the turnpike from Interstate 291 near Springfield to Route 128 in Weston, and about 200 toll collectors would be laid off. Critics said the toll revenue should not be sacrificed when the state's transportation budget is projected to be underfunded by as much as $17 billion in the next 20 years, based on a recent report.
The western tolls bring in about $114 million a year. One scenario presented to the board says that eliminating the western tolls would increase the $5 toll on a trip from Logan International Airport to Weston by as much as $1.50. Tolls are scheduled to go up by 25 cents on the Boston extension of the turnpike and by 50 cents in the harbor tunnels in 2008.
But Trimarco said there would likely be only a 15-cent increase at the Weston and Allston-Brighton tollbooths.
He said Sullivan pumped up the possible increases by erroneously including the already planned 2008 toll increases.
"The examples you included in your letter are not only inaccurate, they mix apples and oranges," Trimarco wrote.
Mac Daniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org