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The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has four months to live. Transportation Secretary James Aloisi said Monday that the new Massachusetts Department of Transportation is expected to take over Turnpike operations in November.
"Starting November, there's a new world order in transportation," Aloisi said at a Turnpike board meeting Monday in Framingham. "The Turnpike Authority won't exist any longer, and then we'll take a look at what our needs are, but, I think we're in a period of transition."
The board of directors officially rescinded a major toll increase at their Monday meeting, one of their last. They unanimously passed a $430 million budget that relies on $100 million from higher state sales taxes to fill the Pike's deficit.
But watching the board meeting felt a lot like watching family members quarrel over the death bed of an ailing relative.
Some board members argued that the Pike, though terminal, is still alive. Details in the $430 million budget still mattered to them. Others, such as Aloisi, looked to the future, and the legacy of $2 billion worth of Big Dig debt the Pike bequeaths to the state.
Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) called the debt a cancer eating away at driver's wallets. He said the toll cancellation is a victory for Metro West commuters. "The reality is toll payers on the Mass. Turnpike and in the tunnels don't have to pay the debt service on the Big Dig anymore," Linsky said. "That is a huge win for those commuters."
It's a two to three year win at best, and one made possible by a $100 million boost from higher sales taxes. Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) warned that the state cannot rely on those short term revenues as the Pike's legacy — debt service, operating and maintenance costs — continue to rise.
Peisch said as the economy rebounds, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will have to introduce new revenue generating systems, such as charging more to use the Pike at peak hours. "I foresee a time in years out when we implement more sophisticated technologies to fund all of our major highways," she said.
Micheal Kelleher of the organization StopThePikeHike.org says his group won't rest until all tolls on the Pike are laid to rest. "We're now moving forward with a ballot initiative just to close the tolls in general," he said, "so that people in next generations and generations don't have to keep fighting this."
Kelleher expects to have the initiative on the ballot in 2010.
This program aired on June 30, 2009.
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