Thursday, 4:30 PM
Pike toll removal slowly 'moves forward,' may not be complete when Romney leaves
(George Rizer/Globe Staff)
While Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board members met in the State Transportation Building today, state Senator Jack Hart (center) and other politicians and union workers gathered to protest the removal of Pike tolls west of Route 128.
By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff
After meeting for 4 1/2 hours behind closed doors, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board voted to slowly "move forward" with a controversial plan to remove all tolls on a 120-mile stretch of the road from Route 128 west of Boston to the New York State line.
The five-member board, however, did not give the proposal final approval. They also agreed that the transfer of the roadway to the Massachusetts Highway Department must comply with environmental regulations, which some conservationists say could slow the process so it is not finalized by the time Governor Mitt Romney leaves office in January.
Governor-elect Deval Patrick said again this morning that he was opposed to any quick removal of the tolls without considering other transportation revenue issues. He is expected to use his gubernatorial powers to try to block any move by the board to implement the policy.
The authority board, which is dominated by Romney appointees, did vote today to complete the handover of the road to the state highway department by June 30, 2007, which would then be under control of Patrick. The board also agreed to begin preparing requests for proposals to lease the service plazas along the roadway.
The proposal, which the board tentatively approved on Oct. 18, is expected to increase tolls east of Route 128 and in the tunnels in Boston.
The authority board estimated that it would take four to six months to implement the plan, which would cost $49.2 million to remove the toll booths. The board also acknowledged that the move would shift the debt burden to the tolls east of Route 128.
Inspector General Gregory W. Sullivan said he provided figures to the board that showed that a trip from Logan International Airport to Weston that now costs $5 would increase to $7.31. This morning, board members estimated that the cost of per passenger car in the tunnels would range from $4 to $5.40.
Outside the meeting, labor leaders and some legislators rallied against removing the tolls at a press conference that included Teamsters and members of the Greater Boston Labor Council. The groups said taking down the tolls could put 518 people out of work. Other critics have questioned the environmental and economic impact of the plan.
"This is right to do today. This is not the way we should be governing," said Martin J. Walsh, a state representative from South Boston. "I will do everything we can possible do to stop this action from happening."
Eric Fernstrom, a spokesman for the Romney administration, stood by the plan, saying toll collection was inefficient on the western Turnpike. The cost cuts are necessary to close a budget gap that is estimated to grow to $16 billion in the next 20 years, Fernstrom said.
(George Rizer/Globe Staff)
John Moscardelli (left) asked a question today during a Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Board meeting to discus removing tolls west of Route 128.