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UMass speaks out on possible border tolls

By: Alyssa Creamer

Collegian Staff

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

According to The Boston Globe, Governor Deval Patrick has proposed a plan to the federal government to place toll booths at the Massachusetts state borders.

Although no official documents requesting this plan have yet been received by the Federal Highway Administration in Washington, Patrick told the Globe saying “I would love to see…border tolls at the interstate entrances.” This would affect travelers driving to and from Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.  

On Nov. 13, 2008, Patrick elaborated on his plans to dismantle the Mass. Turnpike in the Boston Globe.

The Turnpike Authority once served a useful purpose, but Massachusetts no longer needs an independent authority running one toll highway,” said Patrick. “We will work with the Legislature to allow Massport to absorb the tunnels and roads that provide essential service to Logan Airport and the South Boston Seaport, including the Mass. Pike from Route 128 east to the tunnel.”

Within two years, we will remove the tolls on the Pike west of Route 128 and transfer the turnpike to the Highway Department. Interestingly, tolls west of Route 128 cannot be used to pay Big Dig debt on the eastern turnpike. Therefore, border tolls at I-84 and the New York state line will help to ensure the cost of maintaining this highway,” continued Patrick.

University of Massachusetts students and faculty have mixed reactions to Patrick’s plan. Many students expressed confusion about the benefits of dismantling the current tolls in order to create additional border tolls. But other students believe the debt created from the Big Dig needs to be rectified by creating revenue from border tolls.

“I think it’s a complicated issue,” said senior civil engineering major Ryan Lambert. “However, [Patrick’s administration] shouldn’t drop the Mass. Pike tolls completely. Border tolls would not be enough. I don’t think Mass Highway has the capabilities to take control of the Pike. Although, I think it’s a step in the right direction because border tolls could create more revenue for the state.”

Patrick insists that he is considering “dozens” of options for how to generate revenue for the state and acknowledges that border tolls would not generate enough revenue without other solutions.

“Patrick’s plan doesn’t seem to make sense,” said sophomore biology major Helen Van Riel. “A lot of people in Massachusetts commute to surrounding states. People should not be penalized for working in another state. We should leave things the way they are unless there is substantial evidence that it would increase revenue or make a huge [positive] difference for the state.”

Some students, including junior architecture major Andrew Knox, argue the Turnpike makes a lot of money that “should not be overlooked.”

“During its first full year of operation, Turnpike revenues were about $10 million. In 2003, revenue on the Western Turnpike and the MHS totaled $324.8 million, with $244.1 million coming from tolls and the balance from other, non-toll sources of revenue,” according to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority Web site.

“I don’t agree with putting tolls on the borders,” said Knox. “I live right on the border, and I often cross into Connecticut to see my friends. Tolls on the border would just be annoying. I also believe that getting rid of the tolls [throughout the Commonwealth] would be a bad idea, because that money goes to fixing up the Pike and other state needs.”

According to the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, there are laws to prohibit tariffs between states. However, the border tolls would not exactly be considered a tariff.

“My first reaction to this news was I thought the Constitution was about eliminating toll barriers at borders of states,” said political science Professor M.J. Peterson.

“Back in colonial days, there were endless arguments between Connecticut, New Jersey and New York about ferry tolls and attempts to place high tariffs on goods traveling between the states. Obviously a toll on vehicles is not a tariff, but it seems to run a little against the spirit of the law put in place to end the arguments. I think [Patrick] will have trouble getting the feds to approve it.” 

Alyssa Creamer can be reached at acreamer@student.umass.edu.

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