Massachusetts keeps collecting Turnpike tolls more than 30 years after the road was supposed to become free. The Massachusetts Turnpike was built in the 1950s by borrowing money to be repaid by collecting tolls for 30 years. A new quasi-public agency was created to build and operate the Turnpike.

As a transportation project it was a success. Two years after construction started you could drive from Stockbridge to Weston in two hours instead of four. (James Taylor’s Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston was not completed until 1965.)

The failure of this project is in the financial incentives. An independent authority is a little kingdom full of little kings who can spend money as they please. When they can keep extending the collection for useage, their kingdoms know no bounds.

And since the Pike Bridges were unable to be repaired with stimulus monies, the next crisis for the Pike will be to rebuild those bridges and yes raise the tolls once again to pay for them.

The state has spent billions since 2007 rebuilding more than 150 structurally deficient highway bridges with state bond and federal highway and stimulus funding, but not one of the 29 structurally deficient bridges along the Massachusetts Turnpike has been rebuilt or replaced.

While the state expected to rebuild or replace as many as 200 highway bridges as part of a $3 billion accelerated road and bridge program, there were never any plans or funds available to rebuild or replace any of the rapidly aging turnpike bridges, regardless of their condition.

Since the previously self-financed turnpike was merged with the rest of the state highway system in 2009, and for at least two years before that, not a single capital improvement project has been undertaken along the increasingly congested and aging toll road.

A 2008 state law authorizing bonds for the statewide bridge reconstruction program prohibits use of those bond funds for Massachusetts Turnpike projects.

In addition, while hundreds of millions of federal highway stimulus dollars have flowed into Massachusetts for road and bridge projects since 2009, none of that money was directed to the 135-mile turnpike because, unlike all the other interstate highways in the state, it remains ineligible for use of federal highway funds.

Time to rethink how the turnpike gets paid for.

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