Turnpike Targets Speeders, Carpoolers
Agency Facing Revenue Shortage

POSTED: 2:52 am EST December 18, 2007
UPDATED: 3:15 am EST December 18, 2007

BOSTON -- Carpoolers are in line for a rate hike next year and more speeders would be ticketed under a budget plan approved Monday by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Board, which is looking for ways to raise revenue.

Budget writers are projecting a $1.2 million increase over this year in traffic enforcement revenue from Stockbridge to Boston. That means the State Police unit assigned to patrol the Turnpike will be stepping up radar enforcement.

"I'll be careful driving," board member Michael Angelini joked.

Turnpike officials say the $1.2 million hike would only bring the budget back in line with ticket revenue from the years before the 2006 ceiling collapse that killed one motorist. Patrol officers that normally would have been ticketing speeders were reassigned to assist with traffic issues around the crash site and subsequent tunnel closures.

"Those patrols were more or less suspended because of all the tunnel closures, plus they needed the manpower," Turnpike spokesman Mac Daniel said.

State law allows the Turnpike, which pays for the State Police Troop E barracks, to keep ticket revenue.

The carpool program was launched in 1980 and has never had a rate increase, officials said. Motorists pay an annual fee between $25 and $100 depending upon which zone they live in, but pay no tolls, provided there are at least three people in the car. They use a Fast Lane transponder.

The budget calls for $130,000 in new revenue from the program, which has 3,143 accounts, a number that's more than doubled in the past seven years, Daniel said.

Eric Bourassa, a consumer advocate for Masspirg, said a fee increase would "absolutely have an effect" on participation, but noted that the extra funds could pay for better promotion of the program, which could result in more usage.

Turnpike officials, who oversee the budget-busting Big Dig, also offered a glimpse of their 2009 plans: Fewer toll collectors and more electronic tolling.

There are 550 toll takers, comprising about half of the turnpike's work force.

"That's on the agenda," Alan LeBovidge, executive director of Turnpike Authority, said of upcoming plans to get more motorists to use transponders, and to reduce the number of toll collectors. "Stay tuned."

The turnpike board this fall voted to hike tolls, effective next month, increasing the tolls for passenger cars at the Allston-Brighton and Weston toll booths by 25 cents to $1.25.

One-way tolls for cars for the Ted Williams and Sumner tunnels in Boston will rise 50 cents to $3.50.

The board oversees the $14.798 billion Big Dig project and the state's turnpike system.

Despite those hikes, the turnpike is about $30 million short of covering its budget in each of the next two years. The gap will be bridged by debt restructuring and spending portions of the turnpike's $91 million savings account.