By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

For whom the toll tolls

What, are they insane?

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority yesterday didn’t just kill the goose that lays the golden eggs — that would be us. In raising tolls through the roof, as Noah Bierman reports in the Boston Globe, the authority buried the goose’s carcass somewhere beneath a cash-stuffed toll booth, never to be seen again. “I’m already mapping out, in my mind, alternative routes,” writes Jay Fitzgerald at Hub Blog.

Let me say right up front that the proposed toll increases would have little effect on me. I come in from the North Shore, and maybe a couple of times a year I’ll swing over to the Ted Williams Tunnel because something has gone wrong on Route 1. So I’m not looking at a $7 daily toll. But this is just nuts.

Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr is his usual irresponsible self today, writing a damn-them-all screed that doesn’t leave room for any reasonable approach to what has become a huge problem. But on his WRKO Radio (AM 680) program yesterday, he was making more sense, admitting that the state somehow has to pay off the Big Dig fiasco — and that it would be much fairer to spread the pain with an increased gas tax than with toll hikes that, in the case of MetroWest, are paid by those who don’t even use the Big Dig.

Then again, both he and Herald reporter Hillary Chabot raise the specter that we’ll get a gas-tax hike on top of the toll hike. They could be right, even though the Globe’s Bierman reports that Gov. Deval Patrick remains opposed to a gas tax.

On the other hand, the Outraged Liberal thinks yesterday’s announcement is a ruse that will lead not to a toll increase but to a boost in the gas tax. He writes:

But there is a method to this planned madness.

The Globe notes the increases will go into place after another hearing by the Turnpike Authority in February or March. I personally would book Fenway Park as a location that could handle the crowd of angry people.

Presumably, that would be enough time for Deval Patrick and legislators to get off their, um, sidelines, and approve a comprehensive plan to tackle the transportation nightmare (hey, throw in the disaster known as the MBTA while you are at it.)

I hope he’s right. As a Globe editorial noted earlier this week, a 4-cent increase in the state gas tax would bring in $100 million a year — exactly the amount to be raised by the toll hike.

Photo taken inside Ted Williams Tunnel (cc) by Mark Danielson and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Waiting for’s Newton site


Here we go again


  1. Ron Newman

    The proposal raises tunnel tolls to $7 while leaving the Tobin Bridge toll at $3. That’s going to have lots of unintended consequences for local traffic.

  2. Karl C

    Given the tremendous volatility in the price of gas lately, 4 cents is a cakewalk. I don’t understand why Beacon Hill is so opposed to making every driver pay for the roads at a per gallon rate. If they pushed the tax up 8 cents, they could actually start turning the entire budget around and most people wouldn’t even notice at the pump after the initial hoopla died out!

  3. zadig

    I agree with Karl – The idea that they proposed the draconian tolls first just to soften us up for the increased gas tax seems appealing at first, but doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. We all just paid $4/gallon this summer; what’s another 4 or 8 cents now, and so why should the misdirection be necessary?I suppose they could offset this by increasing the commuter rail trains, expanding parking at satellite commuter stations, and other things that might encourage more mass transit use. But then they wouldn’t get all that added revenue anyway.

  4. Neil

    Wow. I’ve already taken to driving around the Tobin Bridge (128S to 93S) to avoid the $3. Cheapskate. That detour only takes about an extra five minutes–off hours though.Similarly last year I used the Pike from the Weston tolls to Cambridge once/wk, paying $1.25 at each end. Until I discovered that it took only a couple more minutes to just drive through Newton and Watertown. Now that cost will go from $2.50 to $4, more off-peak hour drivers will surely put up with city traffic because the time gain using the Pike isn’t much off peak, from Weston inbound.$7 for the tunnels!? Ouch! I pity the commuters. For those coming in from the north, maybe this is a backhanded way to get people to use the commuter rail, or carpool. Nah, probably not.Big Dig is like the Iraq war–right or wrong it was done, now we’re left with the bill. Who still resists the gas tax–the anti “socialism” crowd? However toll hikes AND gas tax increase does sound most likely.

  5. Peter Porcupine

    DK – in this CALENDAR year, not Session, the Legislature and Governor have passed not one, not two, but THREE Transportation Bond bills. And that money has gone…um…where? (This is all on the state web site for those who care to look – find the OTHER five bond bills the Governor signed while saying we were in a fiscal crisis as well, just for fun!)That was what struck me as dishonest when Q. 1 opponents raised the spectre of falling bridges to support the income tax. One of those bonds is SPECIFICALLY for future bridge work, and since it is a bond the money cannot be ‘re-directed’ without the bondholders’ consent. Likewise, all the other improvements mentioned here like MBTA parking, etc., are named in those bonds – so to say a gas tax hike is needed to pay for them (oh, and we have until 2043 to pay them off) is dishonest as well.BTW, a reminder – each and every MBTA train operates at a loss, due in no small part to ‘legacy’ payments to retirees and other non-negotiable debt, so increased T ridership not only decreases gas tax revenue, it also costs the state more money overall. Not to dis the T, but it’s no panacea either.

  6. Jerry

    What makes you/anyone think that the Tobin Bridge tolls won’t be raised to match? That’s certainly been the pattern in the past. (I speak as a North Shore driver who remembers when the bridge toll was 25 cents, and a two-dollar annual commuter sticker pushed the fare down to 15 cents. Chelsea and East Boston drivers got stickers that let them across for free.)

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Jerry: Anything’s possible, but let’s deal with facts, not speculation. Seems to me that the Turnpike Authority members treated themselves to everything they could possibly want yesterday. If they intend to raise tolls on Tobin, why didn’t they just do it? It certainly couldn’t have been because it would be unpopular.

  8. DA

    Now with gas prices coming down to some kind of sanity, I ma noticing I have extra money in my pocket.I’m sure others do too.I think the Pike Board knows people have the money they were using for gas.“I’m already mapping out, in my mind, alternative routes…”I dont think people are madly doing this. Considering how much gas prices have decreased, they are still ahead, even with the increases.

  9. Nial Liszt

    Dan- Massport operates the Tobin. That agency will undoubtedly get around to their own Friday surprise.

  10. LFNeilson

    Would it be any cheaper to use the Jimmy Piersall tunnel?zzzzzzzzz

  11. Nial Liszt

    *Would it be any cheaper to use the Jimmy Piersall tunnel?*Yes, but you have to drive backwards!

  12. Jerry

    Dan, re yr 11:59 post, the Tobin Bridge is Massport property, not MTA. Not that the two don’t talk to each other, of course….

  13. acf

    Starting out with my disclaimer, I’m also a North Shore resident, and don’t have to deal with the tolls. When I have to use the Pike, heading west, I access it by 128, beyond the toll increase zone. When I have to drive downtown to MGH, for example, I do it by 128 to 93 South, no disadvantage mileage wise, and avoiding the Tobin toll.Having said all that, I am angry to the point of finding it difficult to elaborate with any sense of logic. The Big Dig, and the Pike, for that matter, benefits everyone, regardless of whether they drive on it, or even drive at all. Goods and services flow along its roadways, to the benefit of all citizens. Putting the onus of paying for this on the backs of drivers trapped into using the Pike Extension and various tunnels to get to work is unconscionable. It costs them more per unit than if the cost was spread across all the drivers in the Commonwealth, or better yet, all taxpayers. The choice of tax to achieve this can start with a gas tax increase, but also spread to other broadbased tariffs.It almost feels like the Turnpike Authority is trying to get one last shot in before they are put out of existence. It’s the right thing to put them out of business, top to bottom, but I question the plan. The tolls should be eliminated 100% and replaced by my earlier mentioned revenue streams. Putting East vs West, and North/South drivers at each others’ throats over who is paying, who is getting a free ride, and who should bear the burden is not the way to go. Broadbased support is the only way to do this, and keeping tolls because of some legacy mindset is not.What drivers should do in the way of protesting this, aside from speaking out and writing legislators, is to give them a taste of what the future could bring with these increases. Start immediately, by engaging in a boycott of the Pike by using alternative roads. Watch those living along these road experience jams and clogging as a result, bringing them into the protest. Watch the Pike and the State experience the reduction in revenues from cars avoiding the increased tolls. Increase those tolls, and it will be the norm. Maybe those in charge will then understand they can’t finance this think on the backs of a few, and these increases could have the effect of killing the golden goose that the turnpike polls had been before they were given responsibility for the Big Dig in exchange for some control of its roadways.I apologize for this rambling rant, but frustration will do that.

  14. An Astute Observer

    Putting the onus of paying for this on the backs of drivers trapped into using the Pike Extension and various tunnels to get to work is unconscionable. It costs them more per unit than if the cost was spread across all the drivers in the Commonwealth, or better yet, all taxpayers. The choice of tax to achieve this can start with a gas tax increase, but also spread to other broadbased tariffs.Well, would you rather piss of a few taxpayers (who use the pike)…or do you want t o piss of ALL the taxpayers in the commonswealth.I think the politicians can withstand some western suburb political fallout. But I dont think they can withstand every taxpayer in the state pissed off at them. The leadership at the State House has not accomplished much, with the ethics investigations of Theresa Murray, Dimasi, Wilkerson and Marzilli jading public opinion.Making people in Fitchburg, Gardner, Franklin etc. pay for the Big Dig Tunnel doesn’t make sense either.It all about political survival of those elected.

  15. Aaron Read

    For what it's worth, gas in NY State is – on average – about 30 to 50 cents more expensive, and this is in upstate & western New York; nowhere near NYC and Long Island.I've traveled back to Boston via I-90 several times over the past year, and the prices tend to go up-and-down in sync, so I have to assume the primary reason the gas is more expensive here is because of NYS gas tax. Certainly the taxes in NYS are pretty steep.Anyways, Peter – name me a public transit system in the world that DOESN'T operate at a loss? Public transit is just that, a public benefit, and thus designed to be subsidized. Just like highways, I might add…if every highway had tolls that covered their construction and operating costs – instead of receiving federal funds – then nobody could possibly afford to drive on them!Anyways, have we kind of forgotten that Massachusetts is, in general, too cheap to live in at the moment? There's too many people crammed into too small a space; that's why the highways are permanently at rush hour clog levels, the housing prices & rents are still astronomical, and the T is running at 115% capacity and still nowhere near providing optimal service.

  16. Peter Porcupine

    Aaron – I agree that all transit systems run at a loss, and are somewhat intended to do so; I merely mentioned it as some seem to think increased T ridership would save the state money, somehow.

  17. John Mc

    just raise the gas tax 15 cents – we could use the road/transit money….

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén