Tolls at the Mass. border: Worcester senator calls on governor to explore idea – Enterprise News

When the idea of installing tolls at the state’s border crossings was first floated by the transportation secretary for Massachusetts in April, the reaction was swift and negative; legislators, interest groups, even the governor reacted swiftly to decry the proposal.

As the furor increased, the state Republican Committee sent out releases indicating they were against the idea and calling for the secretary, Monica Tibbits-Nutt, to resign. Fiscal watchdogs also objected.

Just days after Tibbits-Nutt made the suggestion while speaking at a meeting of WalkMassachusetts on April 10, Gov. Maura Healey nixed the idea and suggested that the secretary had overstepped her authority.

“The secretary’s comments do not represent the views of this administration; and to be clear I am not proposing tolls at any border,” Healey said in the statement.

However, a state senator has filed legislation to do just that.

Sen. Robyn Kennedy, D-Worcester, filed an amendment to the Senate’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year that would address the question of what she has called equity in tolling.

“I am calling for the governor to seek federal approval to install tolls at our borders,” Kennedy said, asking why only a small cross-section of Massachusetts motorists have to shoulder the burden of tolls.

Massachusetts charges tolls on the 138-mile Massachusetts Turnpike; on one bridge, the Maurice T. Tobin Memorial Bridge; and three tunnels: the Ted Williams, Callahan and Sumner.

“The point of the amendment is that we have to have a conversation around the question of transportation funding,” Kennedy said. “All residents are invested in transportation; there has to be equity in how we are taxing drivers.”

Sen. Peter Durant, R-Spencer, said tolling is a question that should be taken up by the state legislature.

“I don’t think that it is especially fair that people who have to travel east and west in the state should pay the lion’s share of tolling,” Durant said. “I don’t know if tolls at the borders are a solution, but I think we have to have discussions about who pays tolls and what that money is used for.”

The state must invest in transportation infrastructure, Kennedy said, suggesting that experts need to discuss the issue. Other states, she noted, tax motorists using a formula that calculates the cost depending on vehicle miles travelled.

“Funding the roads should not be the responsibility of just one cohort of drivers,” Kennedy said.

However, her colleague, Sen. Ryan Fattman, R-Webster, suggested caution.

“At a time when transportation costs are high for all commuters, I am not in favor of increasing tolling on our roads under any circumstances,” Fattman said. “Massachusetts is a high-cost state and adding additional financial burdens should not be our concentration.”

Even without Kennedy’s amendment, the Senate leadership was loathe to discard the possibility of additional tolling.

Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, said she would be open to considering it. She represents a district that lies along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

“I believe the tolls system right now is not fair at all,” Spilka said in April, in comments made before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. She indicated she would be “willing to have discussions about creative and fair ways to raise revenues for our many infrastructure needs.”


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