Switch To All-Electronic Tolling In Massachusetts Was A Top 2016 Story

Dec 27, 2016

         The increasingly cashless society came to interstate highway travel in Massachusetts this year, while multimillion dollar transportation projects forged ahead.

          The state switched to an open road all-electronic toll collection system on the Massachusetts Turnpike with a promise that both time and money would eventually be saved.

        Gantries straddling the highway at 16 locations scan a vehicle’s E-ZPass transponder, or photograph the license plate to bill the driver by mail for the toll.

         Minutes after the new system was activated in October, contractors began to demolish the old toll booths at 23 locations between West Stockbridge and Boston.  Highway Administrator Thomas Tinlin said it was smooth sailing for the first commute with electronic tolling.

         "This morning went really well and I do believe the credit goes to months of planning, coordination and execution, but the real credit goes to the traveling public," said Tinlin.

         Part of the advance planning included an aggressive campaign to distribute tens of thousands of transponders, even to infrequent turnpike travelers like Loring Staples.

        " If you don't ( have a transponder), you're going to get all these surcharges, so that's why I got it,"  he said at a transponder  distribution event in Springfield last August.

         The biggest highway construction project in western Massachusetts in decades stayed ahead of schedule in 2016.  The reconstruction of a 2-mile elevated stretch of I-91 through downtown Springfield was on a pace to finish up about six months ahead of schedule, or by the end of December 2017.

         MassDOT boss Stephanie Pollack said it is a result of good weather and early-completion incentives for the contractor on the $183 million project.

       " They're working real hard to get every dollar of those incentive payments, and that is great as far as we're concerned," said Pollack. " We want to get off the viaduct as soon as possible."

        An $88 million restoration of Springfield’s derelict Union Station, that was decades in the making, was just weeks from being finished as 2016 neared the end.  Congressman Richard Neal, who pushed for the project beginning when he was mayor of Springfield in the 1980’s is thrilled with how it has come out.

        " It has been done with a great regard for detail and a very refined approach, " said Neal. " It will in many ways replicate what it once looked like including the restoration of the clock."

        Efforts to get more trains to someday stop at the new station continued in 2016.  Tim Brennan, executive director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, signed an agreement to work jointly with MassDOT on a pilot program for a commuter train between Greenfield and Springfield.

      "We have to be aggressive and all over this in terms of advocacy because any time  we're trying to introduce rail service in the western part of the Commonwealth it is a harder sell, " said Brennan.

        After years of planning, a $1.2 million federal transportation grant was awarded in 2016 to build a regional bicycle-sharing program.  Starting next summer people will be able to rent bikes at locations in Northampton, Amherst, Holyoke and Springfield for recreation and short trips.