Boston City Councilors, Mayor Thomas Menino and Boston residents met at East Boston High School Wednesday night to voice their opposition to a proposed toll hike that would raise tolls on the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels before it reaches’ the state legislature.
Last month, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board of directors voted to dramatically increase toll fares from $3.50 to $7.00 in an attempt to pay for operating costs and alleviate the MTA’s debt. Wednesday’s meeting focused on the impact the toll hike would have on Boston.
Mayor Menino said he was disappointed that Boston residents were not ‘considered or consulted’ before the toll increase was proposed.
‘I’m disappointed,’ Menino said. ‘An increase in tolls could cause drivers to veer off toll roads, taking local roads and causing gridlock. All of Boston would feel an impact on local roads and surface streets.’
Menino said possible traffic congestion, due to people avoiding the tolls, could stretch into the Back Bay and South Boston, and affect much more than the immediate areas around the tunnels.
Aside from the effects a toll increase might have on street traffic, City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina (East Boston), stressed the severe economic impact the proposal would have upon the immediate surrounding neighborhoods.
‘Toll increases will be disastrous,’ LaMattina said. ‘Businesses will still pay commercial rates and deliveries may not want to come in or out of East Boston. Municipal services and nonprofit organizations within East Boston may suffer as workers will not want to commute to and from Boston.’
Under the current toll system, residents in surrounding Boston toll areas were granted a discount, paying $0.40 instead of the full $3.50. Under the new proposal, residents would not receive any discount.
Councilor-At-Large Sam Yoon proposed that the MTA raise tolls evenly across Massachusetts or institute a higher gas tax.
‘Boston is an economic engine of the state and the Mass Pike is essential to both the city and state, but the burden should not fall on East Boston,’ he said.
Director of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s department of Operations and Service Development James Folk attended the hearing and stated that the MBTA cannot verify that it would be able to accommodate a sizable increase in riders in case of a fare hike.
The MTA board members responsible for the new proposal, though invited to the meeting, were not available for comment.
‘The state should be required to find a comprehensive solution to this problem,’ Menino said. ‘This plan has not been thoroughly thought out.’