Saturday, 2:15 PM
Massport chief: Agreement near on Big Dig takeover, no toll hikes on Tobin
By Noah Bierman, Globe Staff
The chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Port Authority said today that he "hoped to get some sort of agreement in principle" next month to take over the Big Dig and the eastern portions of the Massachusetts Turnpike, but urged caution on Governor Deval Patrick's plan to fix the financially struggling transportation system.
"There's just so many moving pieces to this," Thomas J. Kinton Jr. said in his first public comments since Patrick announced a major reorganization of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority this month. Patrick's plan would transfer the eastern portion of the Turnpike Authority to Massport, which runs Logan International Airport, while the state highway department would take over the portion west of Route 128.
Kinton also said tolls on the Tobin Bridge would not, for the time being, be raised, even as the Turnpike Authority voted last week to raise other tolls in the area.
The Tobin is the only toll road in Greater Boston not controlled by the Turnpike Authority. The turnpike's board gave preliminary approval last week to charge cash-paying drivers $2 at the Allston-Brighton and Weston toll booths and $7 at the Ted Williams and Sumner tunnels.
"We're not prepared to do anything just yet," Kinton said, referring to the Tobin Bridge. "Obviously, everything is on the table."
Tobin tolls cost $3 for cash drivers coming into Boston, with a 50 cent discount for those who pay electronically using either Fast Lane or E-ZPass. The turnpike also has discounts for Fast Lane users, though not those with out-of-state E-ZPasses. Massport raised rates in 2002 -- from $1 to $2 -- and in 2004 -- from $2 to $3.
If the Tobin is significantly cheaper than the tunnels, some drivers from the North Shore may change their route, which could lead to backups on the bridge.
Kinton said that is a concern, but the bigger issue that could lead the Tobin to raise rates is a financial one. Money collected on the Tobin would help cover some of the debt and maintenance costs on the turnpike roads if and when Massport takes them over, Kinton said.
Kinton said he continues to negotiate with the Patrick administration on the takeover, including the question of who would pay off the turnpike's $2.2 billion debt, due mostly to the Big Dig.
He said he hopes to work out an agreement in December, so his board can vote on it before the beginning of the legislative session.
"We've got to get this right," he said. "Let's not be back at the table again in three or four years."
Kinton said Massport is negotiating with two principles in mind: Massport cannot let the new responsibilities detract from its primary aviation and seaport mission and "history must not be allowed to repeat itself" by forcing another agency to take on more debt than it can handle.
"Everyone seems to agree that it makes little sense to address the problems of one failed agency by creating another," he said.
Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen, who serves on the Massport board, agreed with Kinton's negotiating principles. "I'm confident that we are going to have a deal at the end of the day," he said.
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