MassPort Chief: 'Maybe' We Can Inherit Turnpike

Governor Deval Patrick's plan to dismantle the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority encountered a bump in the road yesterday.

Patrick's proposal calls for the Massachusetts Highway Department to take over Pike operations west of Route 128, and the Massachusetts Port Authority to control everything to the east.

But in testimony before the state transportation committee yesterday, the head of MassPort told legislators his agency may not be prepared to inherit the Turnpike.

WBUR's Meghna Chakrabarti reports.

MassPort CEO Thomas Kinton cut straight to the chase.

KINTON: The obvious question I suspect each of you wants to ask right now is, can you do it?

Can MassPort safely run Logan Airport and seaports, and take over all Turnpike debt and operations east of Route 128, Kinton asked, as proposed by the Patrick Administration?

KINTON: My answer at this juncture, is an emphatic maybe.


That set the state house transportation committee back on its heels. So far back, an awkward silence followed Kinton's testimony.

Committee co-chair, Representative Joseph Wagner finally broke the spell, saying he didn't expect what he called this "less than ringing endorsement" of the Patrick Turnpike plan.

The problem, Kinton replied, is that it's not yet clear if MassPort can cover more than $100 million in annual maintenance costs. Or if the Authority, which currently possesses one of the highest bond ratings of any state agency, is willing to assume the Pike's $2 billion plus of Big Dig debt.

KINTON: If we don't get it right, we're just going to have another Turnpike Authority sitting in front of this body in a year or two.

Governor Patrick first promised a transportation reform package almost two years ago. Later came a proposal to consolidate all state transportation agencies. Time enough, says Senator Stephen Baddour, for the administration to have anticipated any problems.

BADDOUR: And now they expect the legislature to act within a couple of months. That's completely unfair. So, I think the toll payers and the tax payers will appreciate a comprehensive look at this problem, and we're not going to rush anything through, and we're not going saddle toll payers and tax payers, and MassPort with the problems we have today. We need to solve it in a comprehensive way.

And now, with MassPort's public misgivings in the mix, comprehensive may also mean contentious, when Governor Patrick officially files his Turnpike restructuring plan in January.

This program aired on December 10, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Meghna Chakrabarti Twitter Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.