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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Break in tolls on Pike may go

It really is time that the Commonwealth bit the bullet on the turnpike issue (Break in tolls on Pike may go, Boston Globe, August 22: A1, A8. Fiddling about with toll discounts will not bring us a 21st century way of paying for the highway system.

It is very clear that the state roads should be run on an integrated basis. So that having two government departments -- or quasi-government departments -- run the Turnpike and the Highway System makes no sense at all. Once it might have for financial reasons but it does not in these days of difficult financial times. It will of course be difficult to effect a merger between these agencies but the transition might be eased if we took a first step by abolishing tolls on the turnpike.

All of us benefit from the turnpike every day of our lives. The food we eat, the consumer products we buy all reach the cities and towns of the state via the turnpike. Those of us who live closer to it may benefit a little more through reduced congestion when other users travel the turnpike rather than local roads. Those of us who use the turnpike benefit most of all, but we do not benefit more than those who use Interstate 95 and pay no tolls at all.

It is therefore clear, that the turnpike tolls are an additional tax imposed on those who drive on the turnpike; logic -- as opposed to politics -- tells us that, as we all benefit from the turnpike then we should all pay for it.

Last year, the gas tax at 23.5 cents per gallon raised about $600 million. Raising the tax to 50 cents per gallon would raise about $1.26 billion or an additional $626 million. While, if oil prices stay constant, the price would increase to about to about $4.00 per gallon.

The increased revenue would greatly surpass the $18 million to be gained from playing with the discounts by discontinuing them and would even cover all the turnpike revenue from tolls (about $250 million as of December 2006) several times over.

This would leave $330 million to be allocated to the road and bridge repairs that we desperately need or to pay down the debt. The Governor has made some tough decisions in the past few weeks. I hope he will make the changes necessary to repair our broken highway system.

Sent to Boston Globe

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