Saturday, 2:15 PM
Zakim Bridge lights go back on; Pike announces traffic-easing changes
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff
If you're out on the town tonight around dusk, cast your eye toward the majestic Zakim Bridge. Its iconic sapphire sparkle, so missed in recent days, is coming back.
The return of the beloved blue lights came as the region prepared to celebrate Patriots Day, and coincided with a range of transportation changes bent on avoiding a repeat of the Easter Day traffic snarls on the state turnpike.
On April 9, the cash-strapped Turnpike Authority pulled the plug on the lights to save an estimated $5,000 a month. Facing a backlash of criticism for the decision, officials said today they had received enough private donations to keep the lights aglow for good.
"Right in time for Patriots Day," said Colin Durrant, a spokesman for the state's transportation office.
Alan LeBovidge, director of the turnpike, is finalizing a longer-term "public-private partnership plan" to pay for the electric lights, and is exploring more efficient lighting sources, Durrant said.
Under intense pressure to address the Easter Day debacle, state transportation officials also announced new measures encouraging drivers to obtain Fast Lane transponders. The state plans to waive a 50-cent monthly fee for transponders that was set to take effect in July, making them free, and will make them available at seven more motor registries across the state. In a new pilot program, they will also soon be available at five Herb Chambers car dealerships.
The move, which will be debated at a Wednesday meeting of the turnpike board, will cost the agency $6 million a year but will reduce congestion at toll booths by spurring more drivers to acquire the devices, which allow electronic toll collection.
Officials said the turnpike will now pay overtime for toll collectors to fill empty shifts on holiday weekends and other times heavy traffic is expected, even though toll takers earn $55 per hour on holidays.
"None of us ever want unnecessary delays and my team is working to ensure that we have plans in place that will allow us to reduce congestion at toll plazas during high-traffic periods," said Turnpike Executive Director Alan LeBovidge, who has been under fire for the backups and his comments that commuters would have to "grin and bear" such delays because of the turnpike's budget woes.
In a cost-cutting move, officials reduced overall staffing levels from last Easter, and replaced just three of 17 workers who called in sick. As a result, backups stretched up to seven miles, with many Fast Lane customers unable to escape the long lines at the toll booths.
The new initiatives sprung from an investigation into the delays that Governor Deval Patrick ordered last week.