Carpoolers are in line for a rate increase next year, and more speeders would be ticketed under a budget plan approved yesterday by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Board, which is looking for ways to raise revenue.
Budget writers are projecting a $1.2 million increase over this year in traffic enforcement revenue from Stockbridge to Boston. That means State Police assigned to patrol the Turnpike will step up radar enforcement.
"I'll be careful driving," board member Michael Angelini joked.
Turnpike officials say the $1.2 million increase would only bring the budget in line with ticket revenue from the years before the 2006 Big Dig tunnel ceiling collapse that killed one motorist. Patrol officers who normally would have been ticketing speeders were reassigned to assist with traffic issues around the crash site and subsequent tunnel closures.
"Those patrols were more or less suspended because of all the tunnel closures, plus they needed the manpower," Turnpike spokesman Mac Daniel said.
State law allows the Turnpike Authority, which pays for the State Police Troop E barracks, to keep ticket revenue.
The carpool program was launched in 1980 and has never had a rate increase, officials said. Motorists pay an annual fee between $25 and $100 depending on which zone they live in, but pay no tolls provided there are at least three people in the car. They use a Fast Lane transponder.
The budget calls for $130,000 in new revenue from the program, which has 3,143 accounts, a number that has more than doubled in the past seven years, Daniel said.
Eric Bourassa, a consumer advocate for the public interest research group MassPIRG, said a fee increase would "absolutely have an effect" on participation. But he added that the extra funds could pay for better promotion of the program, which could result in more usage.
Turnpike officials, who oversee the budget-busting Big Dig, also offered a glimpse of their 2009 plans: Fewer toll collectors and more electronic tolling.
The 550 toll takers make up about half the turnpike's workforce.
Alan LeBovidge, executive director of Turnpike Authority, said the panel plans an effort to get more motorists to use transponders, and to reduce the number of toll collectors.
The turnpike board this fall voted to raise tolls next month, increasing the cost for passenger cars at the Allston-Brighton and Weston toll booths by 25 cents, to $1.25. One-way tolls for cars for the Ted Williams and Sumner tunnels in Boston will rise 50 cents, to $3.50.
The board oversees the $14.8 billion Big Dig project and the state's turnpike system.
Despite those increases, the turnpike is about $30 million short of covering its budget in each of the next two years. The gap will be bridged by debt restructuring and spending portions of the turnpike's $91 million savings account.