Thursday, December 21, 2006

Keep the Fast Lane Discounts

Tucked in at the end of today's Globe story about Deval Patrick's opposition to toll removal on the MassPike, is this little bit of information about Fast Lane discounts.

The cost of continuing the Fast Lane discounts, estimated at $12.2 million annually, is increasingly viewed as a luxury when the authority faces a number of financial unknowns, including the final cost of repairing the Sumner and Callahan tunnels and the annual cost of maintaining Interstate 93, which the authority has budgeted at $25 million but could go as high as $80 million, according to a board member. The authority would not make public its 2007 operating budget or give the size of its operating deficit.

The one-time cost of repairing the collapsed ceiling in the I-90 connector will be at least $34 million, officials said yesterday.

Patrick offered qualified support for the Fast Lane discount program, which takes 25 cents off the $1 toll on the turnpike extension in Boston, and 50 cents off the $3 toll at the Boston Harbor tunnels.

"If the discount can be sustained, I think it ought to be sustained," Patrick said.
I've mentioned this before. If we're going to have tolls, we should be doing everything in our power to make transponders widespread. More people using transponders reduces the cost of taking tolls and means that more of the money collected goes towards the actual roads, rather than to overhead. Part of that means keeping, and perhaps even expanding the Fast Lane discounts.

I'm also a little confused as to why people are surprised that Patrick is opposing the toll removal. If I recall correctly, he came out against this about a month ago. There needs to be some way to make up the $114 million in yearly revenue, which is required for highway maintenance. Even Republican state Senator Bob Hedlund (R-Weymouth) admitted today on WGBH's Greater Boston that if we took down the tolls, we'd have to raise the gas tax to make up the lost revenue.