Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political Ploy or the Turning of the Pike...

Well, we seem to have gone from a risk of being overtolled to no tolls. Frankly, I'm shocked. I never thought I’d see the day that tolls would vanish from the Massachusetts Turnpike, especially after the startling news form the Globe on potentially tolled WMass highways.

Most people won’t see this through a political lens. By that, I mean it won't sway voters in any direction. Obviously, this was an attempt to highlight a good of the Romney administration and by extension feature Kerry Healey for governor. However, nobody turned off by this was going to vote for her anyway. People who like the idea of abolishing the tolls who don't care about the timing won't change their vote either. In addition, much of this state's population rarely or never uses the turnpike. My family only recently started using it semi-regularly since I started college in Boston.

There is, however, something forgotten in all of this: how will the Pike be paid for without tolls? Well, in all fairness, it was paid for 23 years ago. However, between the Big Dig and patronage, it has accumulated some massive debt. According to the
Boston Globe, Romney's minions have determined that selling off some of the unneeded property and mortgaging the Service Centers along the route will handle the debt.

However, the Pike has maintenance cycles that will need to be paid by taxpayer dollars instead of toll-payers. Unfortunately, transportation money is scarce and Washington is, in my opinion, trying to get itself into a user-paid-for mantra. Translation, we can't spend money on novel things like transportation, but rather no-bid contracts in Iraq and obscene expenditures with no federal-relevance at the pork-barrel buffet.

The state has two options. They can divert money from the existing transportation budget, under-funded as it is. Or, they can find revenue elsewhere. I know the budget is tight, but if this proposal, long overdue, is undertaken, there may be no choice. Ironically, as both candidates for governor support this, at least in principal, they may find their plans for tax decreases fly out the window.

Tolls will remain east of 128 as they should. I mean, let's face it, this money is used to pay for their highway project localized entirely within 128. That is only fair. Tolls on the tunnels should remain indefinitely since they require more maintenance/security. The Tobin is
under Massport so it's to be tolled for the foreseeable future. Admittedly, I think the June deadline for this is a bit early. While tolls were often gobbled up by to pay toll booth operators, I was hoping they could last a little long. Then using the money the Pike could be better integrated into the transportation infrastructure in a post-tolls world. For example, they could remove that absurd stoplight separating the Pike from I-291.

If nothing else, it does sound the death knell for another government agency that wore out its welcome. The Turnpike did its job well, at least along the original 138 miles, but it became, as a number of Mass. agencies have become, i.e. the Metropolitan District Commission, a haven for patronage. In addition, while I am no fan of Mitt Romney, his plan will also cut back on the pollution from idling cars at the toll plazas. We can breath easy one way or the other there.

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