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The MassDOT hearing on electronic tolling Thursday night was sparsely attended.
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Stephen Collins, MassDOT's director of statewide tolling, said tolls will continue to be collected in Western Mass because the roadway needs $130 million a year in maintenance.
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Jared Kadich, chief of staff for the highway administrator, said the goal was to try to keep cost the same. The new tolls will be $6.15 from end to end.
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State Rep. William 'Smitty' Pignatelli was concerned with emergency responders having access to the pike.
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West Stockbridge Selectmen Curt Wilton wants more communication about the reconstruction of the toll plazas in his town.

Concerns Raised With MassPike Tolling Plan

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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State Rep.  Tricia Farley-Bouvier said she has concerns about the 30-cent fee-per-gantry that drivers will be charged if they do not have a transponder.
LENOX, Mass. — For 17 years, residents in the Berkshires could take the turnpike for six exits before having to pay anything. For many, there was little need to get an E-Z Pass transponder. Rather, they just paid the five or six bucks for the rare trip to Boston.
On Oct. 28, however, if a Berkshire resident takes that trip to Boston without a transponder, the cost has nearly doubled. The state is moving to an all-electronic tolling system that includes reducing from 26 toll gantries to 16.
While the total cost of the end-to-end trip may decrease with the new toll structure, there is a 30-cent fee for each of those gantries if the driver doesn't have a transponder. In all, that $6.60 cent trip one way now will jump to more than $11 because of those fees.
"Many people in the Berkshires are going the length ... I am very concerned about this disparity," state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, told state Department of Transportation officials on Thursday during a public hearing on the new system. "This really isn't OK." 
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said a nurse who lives in West Stockbridge and works at Baystate Medical Center who was taking the pike for free just a few years ago will now pay some $200 to $300 a year. Meanwhile, there will spots in the Springfield and Worcester areas where there are no tolls between exits. And the residents of East Boston get a "deep discount" on their tolls for crossing bridges and tunnels. So, why can't there be a commuter discount for residents here? Pignatelli asked.
"We've had a nice run of 17 years with no tolls but now that is a $200, $300 increase," Pignatelli said. "I have no problem with any of these discounts, I would just ask for regional equity."
The electronic tolling system isn't perfect, according to those lawmakers, but MassDOT officials say its implementation will enhance public safety, decrease congestion, and improve air quality. 
"I don't remember any of my 29 years in public service of having one program that can help you accomplish those three things," Thomas Tinlin, highway administrator, said.
The concept began in 2010 under Gov. Deval Patrick's administration and was followed by a feasibility study. The Tobin Bridge went all-electronic in 2014 and the decision was made to proceed. Raytheon and TransCore received contracts for the operation and construction for the electronic system. 
When Gov,. Charlie Baker's administration took over, the new MassDOT team had to decide whether to continue. Those three stated benefits won out and the change is set to "go live" on Oct. 28.
Tinlin said the Weston Toll Plaza, which is part of the cost center identified in the 1990s as the Western Turnpike, has 60 percent more accidents than anywhere else. He said studies show there are higher number of accidents at toll booths than anywhere else on the highway. 
Vehicles can get backed up and have to keep stopping as they approach toll booths. Tinlin estimates that "over 800 hours are lost in a given day." Getting rid of the booths will give those hours back to drivers. 
"Very rarely can you give people back time in their day. We estimated over 800 hours are lost every day by the drivers in Massachusetts purely by stopping at a toll plaza and making that transaction. When you take into account 5 million travelers a day, a wide portion of them on the turnpike, you are talking about 800 vehicle-delay hours saved every single day, which turns into 280,000 hour a year," Tinlin said. 
Decelerating, idling, and accelerating account for between 500 and 2,500 gallons of gas wasted per day, and up to 875,000  gallons per year. Using E-Z Pass, greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to be reduce by 7,800 tons per year, he said. 
The move will cost the jobs of 510 employees currently collecting tolls. Tinlin said, "we in the highway division have gone to great lengths to try to lessen the impacts on them and their families." The move was negotiated with the union and MassDOT has made training available for the toll takers to get jobs in other areas in the department. An educational fund has been for those who wanted to pursue different professions altogether. 
The new gantries will read the E-Z Pass transponders as drivers travel underneath them. The toll is taken from the digital account established when getting the transponder. If the system can't read the transponder, MassDOT officials will check the database and see if there is one register — if so, the toll will be deducted from the account and the driver will be notified that something may be wrong with the transponder.
If there isn't an account, then a bill will be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle. Tinlin said the information collected will remain private. The information is not subject to public records law and will be retained only as long as needed, he said. 
"By law and by policy, we are in the tolling business. We are not in the crime-fighting business. We are not in the speed-enforcement business. We are in the tolling business and that is the intent of this technology," Tinlin said.
However, the technology does have a capability for a "hot list," which means when there is an Amber Alert or public threat — such as the Boston Marathon bombing — law enforcement can be notified when a suspect vehicle drives under one of those gantries. However, it isn't yet determined when and what occasions would trigger such usage. 
Stephen Collins, MassDOT director of statewide tolling, said the tolls collected on the Western Turnpike will go back into the maintenance and bonds for that roadway. The Western Turnpike was identified in 1997 as its own separate cost center to keep the cost of bonds for the Big Dig from impacting drivers out west. 
"All the tolls that are collected on the Western Turnpike stay on the Western Turnpike. They don't get diverted to any other roadway or any other state service," Collins said.
The Western Turnpike is from the New York border to Weston. Everything east is the Metropolitan Highway System. In 1996, tolls were eliminated from Exits 1 through 6 for passenger vehicles. In 2013, those were reinstated to pay for bonds taken out for repairs to the roadway. The tolls were to be lifted once those bonds were paid off, which is expected in 2017.
However, Collins cited the legislation that reads, "the Western Turnpike would become toll free when two things happen. One was those bonds were paid off and the second instance was when the road was determined to be in a state of good repair." 
"We were out here in May with a triannual report that was issued by an independent consultant for MassHighway which determined the Western Turnpike was not in a state of good repair and in fact would require between $134 million and $142 million each year in order to reach and maintain that level of good repair," Collins said. 
Because of that, it was determined the tolls stay put. With the switch to all-electronic and the reduction of the number of tolling locations, all of the tolls were reconsidered. The two systems had different tolling programs. The goal was to bring those more in line with each other while attempting to keep the system "revenue neutral." 

Highway Administrator Thomas Tinlin outlined the plans during the Thursday hearing at the District 1 office. 
Currently, the toll to travel the entire length is $6.60 with $4.60 coming from the Western Turnpike and $2 from the eastern end. Jared Kadich, chief of staff for the highway administrator, said the goal was to try to keep that cost the same. The new tolls will be $6.15 from end to end. 
"The goal really was to keep a revenue neutral program. This meant two things to us. It meant first that we are collecting a similar amount of revenue as we are today. We didn't want to use this as an opportunity to set rates such that we are collecting grossly more even than we do today," Kadich said. "But we also want to keep it proportionately equal."
The new tolling program was developed based on per-mile basis. There is some ups and downs in the cost, with some trips costing more and other less, because of the changes and the reduction of the number of toll locations. 
The rates are set for three different users: Those with a Massachusetts transponder, those with out-of-state transponders, and those who do not have a transponder. Using the 2015 data, Kadich said $128.1 million was generated from the Western Turnpike and with the new system, $127.7 million will be generated. 
"Individual travelers may see small variations of their rates based on what they are today given point to point trips due to where the gantries are located and what we inherited for gantry locations," Kadich said. 
Forty-seven percent of trips will see decreases; 4.6 percent of trips will remain the same; 14.1 percent of trips will see increases of five cents; 5 percent of trips will increase by 10 cents, and the remainder would increase by more than 10 cents. 
"The average size of the decrease is larger than the average size of the increase. So while folks are seeing increases and folks are seeing decreases is roughly proportional, the folks who are seeing decreases are seeing pretty big decreases," Kadich said.
The additional fees for those without E-Z Pass is intended to just "recover the cost" of sending a bill to those drivers.
"The rates aren't intended to be punitive but it is meant to recover the cost," Kadich said.
Tinlin said the new fare structure will go to the MassDOT Board of Directors on Oct. 6 and, if approved, will go into effect when the toll plazas come down. Removal begins on Oct. 28 when the middle portions of the toll plazas will be closed and demolished. The speed limits will remain 15 mph. Once the new middle lanes reopen, the outside toll booths will be demolished and the speed limit will increase to 35 or 45 mph depending on the location. 
"All of this happens in the first 30 days," Tinlin said, adding that the contract was rewritten to have all of the demolition work completed before 2017 and road reconstruction completed by Nov. 22. 
"I applaud the electronic tolling, I really do," Pignatelli said, but questioned it impact on firefighters and fire trucks responding to crashes on the turnpike and on residents who are being charged a higher rate because their transponders are from New York.
Tinlin said all states in the "E-Z Pass" family have higher rates for those transponders from out of state. But, anybody is able to get a Massachusetts transponder for free to access those lower rates.
Resident Tom Hardy said he has a Pennsylvania transponder and he was under the impression that they were all uniform rates. He voiced concern for not being able to have the same discount without carrying transponders for every state he travels in.
Wally Terrill, of Otis, said he spends some $180 to $200 in tolls per month because his job requires such travel. But, being in Otis, he says he has to drive 45 minutes to Westfield to get onto the highway or 15 miles to Lee.
"Can you consider adding an exit 3A?" Terrill said, now that not every interchange has a toll booth.
Meanwhile West Stockbridge Selectmen Curt Wilton just wants more communication about the demolition and reconstruction when it comes to the tolls in his town. 

Tags: MassDOT,   MassPike,   public hearing,   toll road,   

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MassDOT: Lenox Temporary Lane Closures on Route 7 Northbound

LENOX, Mass. — The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is announcing it will be implementing temporary lane closures on Route 7 northbound in Lenox. 
The low speed lane will be closed between mile marker 26 to mile marker 27, from 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. beginning Monday, April 22 and continuing Monday through Friday until Friday, May 17.  
Drivers traveling through the affected areas should expect delays, reduce speed, and use caution.? 
Appropriate signage, law enforcement details, and advanced message boards will be in place to guide drivers through the work area.  
All scheduled work is weather dependent and/or may be impacted due to an emergency situation.? 
For more information on traffic conditions, travelers are encouraged to:    
  • Download the?Mass511?mobile app or visit? view live cameras, travel times, real-time traffic conditions, and project information before setting out on the road. Users can subscribe to receive text and email alerts for traffic conditions.??    
  • Dial 511 and select a route to hear real-time conditions.???    
  • Follow?@MassDOT?on X, (formerly known as Twitter),?to receive regular updates on road and traffic conditions.?  
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