I ain't going to take it no more!

I ain't going to take it no more!

© David Burton 2008

Toll Booths

     “Cash-strapped Boston area motorists reacted with outrage yesterday after the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority voted to approve massive tolls that could take effect as early as March.” ( Ref. 1)

     “Though a final vote and two public hearings are still needed to finalize the hike, tolls will increase to $2 at the Weston and Allston-Brighton booths (up from $1.25) and double to a staggering $7 at the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels.” ( Ref. 1)

     For those of you unfamiliar with the Massachusetts (and in particular the Greater metropolitan Boston area) toll system, there are three major methods of access to Boston and points south from north of Boston - the Mystic-Tobin Bridge, the Sumner Tunnel and the Ted Williams Tunnel. All are toll roads. One major access road from the west, the Massachusetts Turnpike, is also a toll road. There are no toll roads from the south of Boston. There are several non-toll roads, beside the Massachusetts Turnpike, that access Boston from the west but only a few non-toll roads from the north.

     For decades, motorists on the north shore of Boston have unfairly been forced to pay tolls to enter or pass through the city of Boston while motorists from the other parts of the state, particularly from Boston’s south shore, have gotten off scott-free. The proposed toll increases make the unfairness even more egregious.

     The Mystic-Tobin Bridge was completed in the late 1940’s with the promise that when the bonds used to fund the bridge construction were paid off, the tolls would be eliminated. A similar promise was also made at the time of the construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike. As typical in Massachusetts, the state’s liberal politicians reneged on both promises - after all why kill off a cash cow? A “temporary” increase in the state’s income tax during the Dukakis administration has also never been rescinded even though the financial downturn that precipitated the “temporary” increase has long since passed.

     Politicians and bureaucrats in one-party Massachusetts have little to fear from the electorate. Incumbents are essentially elected for life and the state is so heavily liberal Democratic, that in the just concluded elections, my ballot showed that some 90% of offices up for election in the state and in my district were uncontested by Republican candidates. Unfulfilled promises, higher taxes and increased fees pose no problems to those in power.

     The state of Massachusetts at this time finds itself in tough financial straits, as do many other states, companies and citizens. Its problems are magnified in the transportation sector because of the huge overrun in costs produced by the construction and maintenance of the “Big Dig”, the tunnel that funnels Interstate Route 93 traffic through Boston on a north-south axis. To pay for the overrun without appearing to raise taxes, the state has dumped a large portion of the Big Dig costs onto the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and to cover these large cost burdens the Turnpike Authority is proposing the toll increases outlined above.

       Well I for one ain’t going to take it no more!!! I can avoid the two harbor tunnels and their $7 tolls by driving an extra 5 to 10 miles. At $2 a gallon for gas and 20 miles per gallon from my compact auto, my gasoline cost would increase by $0.50 to $1.00. Worst case, I would save some $6.00 by avoiding the tunnels.

     If instead, we consider operating costs rather than fuel costs, the calculation goes like this. At an operating cost of $0.40 per mile, the added driving (10 miles worst case) cost would amount to $4.00, still $3.00 cheaper than driving through the toll tunnels.

     However, in avoiding the toll tunnels, I will

  • increase petroleum consumption at a time when we should be trying to reduce the use of non-renewable fossil fuels
  • increase pollution
  • increase the emission of greenhouse gasses
  • increase street traffic in the communities through which I will be driving, likely creating serious grid lock during rush hours
  • increase my driving time by up to ½ hour, a good trade from my point of view
  • reduce the money collected in tolls by the state.
     What then will really be accomplished if the tolls are increased as proposed? Reduced toll revenue, increased pollution, more global warming, more fuel consumption, and traffic gridlock.

     Instead of stupidly raising toll rates on one region of the state, what the state should be doing is the following:
  • Make all roads, bridges and tunnels in the state toll-free. This will eliminate the need for drivers to stop and pay tolls and it would get rid of the lines at toll booths during peak travel periods. This will do away with the salary and benefits paid to toll takers and their superiors, the cost of maintaining toll booths, and the cost of overseeing the toll collection system, all of which is estimated to amount to ¼ to 1/3 of all tolls collected. This action would finally honor the promises made decades ago by the state’s politicians to eliminate the tolls at the Mystic-Tobin Bridge and the Massachusetts Turnpike once the construction bonds were paid off.
  • Increase the state’s gasoline tax. This move would spread the costs of the Big Dig and all other highway costs equitably over all motorists in the state. It would more than make up for the loss of tolls, since the costs of toll collection would be eliminated. The higher driving costs would help to discourage unnecessary driving and encourage fuel conservation while reducing pollution and green house gas emissions.

  1. Hub drivers honkin’ mad at new plan, Eva Wolchover, Boston Herald, Page 54, November 15, 2008.

  16 November 2008 {Article 53; State_01}    
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