The Massachusetts Department of Transportation on Thursday held its final public hearing before a vote on adjusted turnpike rates associated with a switch to all electronic tolling.
Thursday’s public hearing at MassDOT’s District 1 headquarters in Lenox was the department’s seventh in September. Officials detailed what Massachusetts Turnpike drivers can expect when all electronic tolling — which uses gantries above the road instead of tollbooths to collect fees — goes live on October 28. Tom Tinlin, the department’s highway administrator, says the 16 overhead gantries will use EZ-Pass transponders to automatically collect tolls and will scan a license plate if a vehicle doesn’t have a transponder.
“Then there is the pay by plate customer where for whatever reason somebody chooses not to participate in the EZ-Pass program and they travel under a gantry will mail them an invoice that says your vehicle went under this gantry at this time on this date and you owe the taxpayers of the commonwealth X amount of dollars.”
Tinlin says the system will first check to see if a license plate matches up with an EZ-Pass account, before mailing an invoice. MassDOT says the system will not be used to enforce speed limits. The department says more than half of drivers with a Massachusetts-issued EZ-Pass transponder will see the same or lower rates under proposed rate changes. Jared Kadich is chief of staff for the highway division.
“That end to end trip is reduced by $0.45,” Kadich detailed. “So someone with an EZ-Pass Mass. transponder traveling from the New York border to Boston currently pays $6.60. They would pay $6.15 under the proposed structure.”
The MassDOT board is scheduled to vote Oct. 6 on the rate proposal. The rates would go into effect Oct. 28, the same day electronic tolling goes live. A car without an EZ-Pass will be charged an additional $0.30 for each gantry it passes plus $0.60 for the mailing of a monthly bill. Also, out of state EZ-Pass transponders will not receive the same discount as those from Massachusetts. Tinlin says that is a general practice across states that use EZ-Pass as to not fund highway maintenance solely via their own residents. You can obtain a Massachusetts EZ-Pass transponder for free regardless of where you live. Kadich says roughly 80 percent of the turnpike market has Massachusetts EZ-Pass transponders.
State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox urged DOT to institute a commuter discount program for people in the Berkshires similar to ones in the eastern part of the state. Pittsfield State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier expressed concern about drivers who infrequently use the turnpike and don’t have a transponder but take it all the way to Boston for what will cost $11.70 one-way.
“Who is it that’s going to pay this almost double rate?” Farley-Bouvier said. “It’s going to be seniors who live in the Berkshires. So this idea that we’re paying $0.30 extra for every gantry that we go under it really adds up if we’re going the length of the pike.”
MassDOT says the higher charge for vehicles without a transponder is due to additional costs of processing that transaction. Wally Terrill of Otis commented that adding a turnpike exit and entrance in western Massachusetts would be beneficial now that overhead gantries will be used. The public comment period on the rate change ends Sept. 29. All 26 tollbooth plazas will be demolished and the areas reconstructed by the end of 2017, according to DOT. Finally, Tinlin detailed why Massachusetts is switching to all electronic tolling.
“To increase public safety, decrease congestion and increase air quality,” said Tinlin.
Tinlin says there will be savings from the 510 toll collectors who will be out of a job. He says the switch to electronic tolling has been conducted with the workers’ union and employment training including for a commercial driver’s license and an educational fund has been set up for those employees.
Click here for more WAMC coverage of Massachusetts' transition to electronic tolling.
Click here for more information on the state's all electronic tolling program and the rate proposals.