Thursday, 4:30 PM
Turnpike board keeps Fast Lane discount -- for now
By Mac Daniel and Frank Phillips, Globe Staff
The Massachusetts Turnpike board, facing the wrath of commuters and legislators, is expected Wednesday to extend for two months the life of a heavily used Fast Lane discount program when it approves its 2007 operating budget, a board member familiar with the agency’s strategy said Tuesday.
The compromise is expected to allow the board time to review the authority’s larger fiscal picture, study the implication of eliminating the tolls west of Route 128, and determine what effect that would have on continuing the Fast Lane discount, the board member said.
The $12.2 million in potential annual revenue lost from the discount is viewed as a luxury the authority can no longer afford. The agency, which oversees the Big Dig and the turnpike, is weathering a confluence of financial strains, created by rising costs and revenue shortfalls. The authority’s staff has proposed eliminating the discount, which takes 25 cents off the $1 tolls on the Pike’s Boston extension and 50 cents off the $3 toll for the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels.
An estimated 200,000 drivers used Fast Lane transponders in 2005, the vast majority on the turnpike.
Turnpike Board member Mary Z. Connaughton, a Framingham resident who represents western suburban commuters, plans to fight the cut or seek a compromise, she said.
At the same time, state Representative David P. Linsky, a Democrat from Natick, said the five-member turnpike board does not have the authority to eliminate the program and vowed to wage a legal battle.
"The law could not be any clearer. What part of the word permanent don’t they understand?" he said Tuesday. "If they attempt to end the commuter discount program, I will ask the attorney general to enforce the law."
The legislation creating the discount states "the authority shall appropriate the funds necessary to provide said discount on a permanent basis." It was passed in August 2002 as a political peace offering to MetroWest commuters and legislators, who have complained they are paying a portion of the $14.6 billion Big Dig’s cost but not using or benefiting from the road as much as commuters from the north and south. The discount has been renewed every year since 2002.