Thursday, 4:30 PM
Tolls may rise higher than expected on Turnpike
(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/file)
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
Drivers may be forced to pay higher than anticipated tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike next year because of repairs that were pushed aside to fund the Big Dig and other costs, according to a member of the Turnpike Authority board and an outside financial specialist.
Tolls are tentatively scheduled to rise on Jan. 1 from $1 to $1.25 at the Allston and Weston booths and from $3 to $3.50 at the Ted Williams and the Sumner tunnels, board member Mary Z. Connaughton said.
The increases were scheduled in 1997 and 1999, when the Turnpike Authority floated bonds to help pay for the Big Dig. Since then, the project's costs have risen sharply and other parts of the highway have been neglected, Connaughton said, and tolls will likely have to rise higher to cover the expenses.
Connaughton said she could not predict how much tolls would have to rise, but said the increase could be "substantial."
"The point is that this table was set by the Turnpike Authority back in 1997 and this is all coming to a head right now," Connaughton said. "The chickens have come home to roost and we have to deal with it."
Mac Daniel, an Authority spokesman, said the Turnpike board will hold a series of public hearings before voting on toll increases.
"But as of now, the exact amount of the toll increase to fulfill these bond obligations has not been determined," Daniel said in a statement.
Michael J. Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, said it is likely that a 25-cent increase on the highway and a 50-cent increase at the tunnels will not be enough to sustain the Authority.
"The Turnpike is facing serious problems," said Widmer, who recently studied the Authority's finances as a member of a state transportation review board. "It's a virtual certainty that they have to raise tolls greater than the planned increases and the only question is how much."
Connaughton said she would offer a plan to shift the burden of the toll increases to commercial traffic and to drivers who use the tunnels, which she said would spare drivers from the central and western parts of the state.