Tobin Bridge to begin charging drivers tolls in both directions, but at an adjusted price

A view of Charlestown and Boston skyline on the left as the Tobin Bridge spans the river with Everett upper right and Chelsea Admirals Hill lower right.  Pity the Mystic River which does not get the attention as the neighboring Charles River which has been cleaned up.
The Tobin Bridge pictured in 2013. MassDOT first installed electronic tolling on the 66-year-old bridge in 2014, but only for southbound drivers. –David L. Ryan / The Boston Globe

We have good news and bad news, depending on which direction you drive on the Tobin Bridge.

First, the bad news: The Massachusetts Department of Transportation confirmed Monday that it will toll northbound drivers on the Tobin Bridge beginning at the end of the year.

The good news, for southbound drivers, is that instead of the current $2.50 toll that is levied on drivers heading into Boston, motorists in both directions will pay $1.25 to travel the Route 1 bridge across the Mystic River.

MassDOT spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard noted that the change is “revenue-neutral,” as the amount charged is being dispersed among drivers in both directions, instead of lumped solely on southbound drivers.

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In 2014, MassDOT instituted all-electronic tolling on the now 66-year-old bridge, in which an overhead collection system mounted above the road either reads drivers’ E-ZPass transponders or license plates, and charges them accordingly.

Goddard said Monday that tolling infrastructure above northbound lanes on the Tobin Bridge was installed “several days ago,” but that tolling will not go “live” until all-electronic tolling goes live statewide. All-electronic tolling is scheduled to go live all along the Massachusetts Turnpike in October.

For drivers without EZ-Pass, a 50-cent surcharge is added per trip, as has been the case on the Tobin Bridge and will soon go into effect on the Pike.

MassDOT has promoted the system as “safer, quicker, and more convenient” for drivers, as well as cheaper for the state to operate. Net toll revenue is projected to rise slightly, according to the department.

According to the department, E-ZPass transponders, which are provided free of charge, were used by 85 percent of Tobin Bridge drivers as of November 2015. Per a 2015 document, Tobin Bridge tolls account for $32.9 million of $375 annual gross revenue generated by the Massachusetts toll system.

Two-way tolling is also planned for the tunnels leading to and from Logan Airport, with a similar 50-percent reduction for each passage, according to 2015 documents.

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Goddard said Monday that even before all-electronic tolling was installed on the Tobin Bridge, it was always the department’s intention to toll drivers in both directions. The department held six public meetings in 2013 in Chelsea, Lynn, Revere, Salem, Saugus, and Winthrop explaining that one-direction tolling was in place temporarily until all-electronic tolling was implemented, as reported by the Chelsea Record at the time.

MassDOT says it will continue to install and test all-electronic tolling in other Boston Harbor tunnels and on the Pike through the summer.

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