Mass. legislator proposes expanding tolls to make charges fair across the state

"We believe there must be a more equitable system in which all areas of the state pay towards this important infrastructure."

–David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo

Massachusetts’s transportation problems are widespread, but when it comes to the daily commute, some are paying for it more than others — literally.

Just ask state Sen. Brendan Crighton.

“We on the North Shore as well as in the MetroWest have for far too long been burdened unfairly by tolls,” the Lynn Democrat said Thursday.

Testifying on his sponsored bills before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, Crighton outlined three proposals, two of which would overhaul the state’s tolling system by expanding it beyond the handful of roadways that currently charge drivers.

“I have nothing against paying my fair share, especially when it’s going towards transportation infrastructure, but we believe there must be a more equitable system in which all areas of the state pay towards this important infrastructure,” he said.

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“An Act Establishing the Metropolitan Transportation Network” seeks to allow electronic tolling to rise above parts of Route 2, Interstate 93, and Interstate 95 and would pave a way for “peak period pricing,” in which toll charges would fluctuate during busy driving times.

Also known as “congestion pricing,” the concept has received recent attention from lawmakers and advocates alike as a possible aid to Boston’s traffic woes. Gov. Charlie Baker, however, has dismissed the idea, saying the move would slap higher rates on people who don’t have flexible schedules and who are often working for hourly wages.

Crighton said his bill would also “require MassDOT to develop an equitable statewide tolling system, create incentives for drivers to utilize public transportation, and establish dynamic tolling to address congestion on our roadways in an environmentally responsible way.”

Similarly, another Crighton proposal highlighted Thursday, “An Act Relative to Tolls On The Roadways Of The Commonwealth,” would freeze current toll prices until the state Department of Transportation completes a report looking at the feasibility of bringing all-electronic tolling “along state and interstate highways of the Commonwealth that are not currently subject to a toll,” particularly along the state borders.

Crighton declined to name any roadways outside his district where he thought tolls would be appropriate when asked by reporters.

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“I think people can certainly take a look at a map and see roads that aren’t tolled,” he added.

Crighton has also proposed raising taxes on ride-sharing trips made by companies like Lyft and Uber to bring in additional revenue for transportation improvements.

Single-passenger trips could see a 6.25 percent tax, and shared rides would receive a 4.25 percent charge, according to Crighton. State law currently imposes a flat 20-cent tax.

Crighton said lawmakers must take “decisive action.”

“With traffic at a standstill, residents are not able to reliably get to work,” he said. “Our strained transportation system poses serious challenges for our business community and the continued economic growth of our state.”

The three bills were among several discussed at Thursday’s hearing. Other proposals aimed at financing the transportation system included creating tolled express lanes and a pilot program to study how drivers could be charged based on the miles they’ve traveled instead of through the state’s gas tax.

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