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Six months and a deepening fiscal crisis later, state leaders are finally seeing the wisdom in a Turnpike reform package offered this past summer by Sen. Robert Hedlund and the Republican Caucus.
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority yesterday voted to make electronic toll transponders available for free. This move echoes a proposal put forward last July by the Caucus that was rejected in a largely partisan vote.
“I am as supportive of this move now as I was when I proposed it six months ago,” said Sen. Hedlund. “By encouraging more drivers to pay tolls electronically, the Turnpike will be able to cut operating costs by eliminating $70,000 a-year toll collector jobs.”
Drivers are currently charged $29.95 for the transponders, which then allow them use the Fast Lane as Turnpike toll plazas. The caucus amendment did not include the 50-cent-per-month service charge attached by the Turnpike Authority.
A study performed by the Romney Administration back in 2004 found that it costs the Turnpike Authority 33 cents for every manual transaction, but just 7 cents for every electronic collection. Drivers also save 11 seconds per transaction when they pay electronically.
The Caucus last summer also proposed an amendment that would have required the Turnpike Authority to prepare a list estimating the market value of all Turnpike-owned service plazas and other property. Newly-appointed Transportation Secretary James Aloisi, who also serves as chairman of the Turnpike Authority Board of Directors, last week said the cash-strapped authority is considering selling off its service plazas – a move he estimated could generate at least $300 million.
The Caucus is hopeful that Sec. Aloisi will next consider the third part of the rejected Turnpike reform package: switching to one-way tolling along the Turnpike between Boston and Route 128. Doing so could allow the Turnpike Authority to cut at least 30 percent of its toll collectors.
The Turnpike is currently weighing a plan to raise tolls from $1.25 to $2 within Route 128 and double harbor tunnel tolls to $7. The hikes are needed, Turnpike Authority officials argue, in order to remain solvent and preserve its credit rating.
“It’s disappointing to think that it took a crisis such as the one we are facing for our state’s Democratic leadership leaders to seriously consider and adopt common-sense and good government proposals suggested by Republicans,” Sen. Hedlund said.