On Beacon Hill: Public hearing on new Pike toll rates set for Sept. 6 at Union Station

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • With many Pike tolls on the rise and all toll booths disappearing in October, public forums set
  • Gov. Baker’s gone to the dogs, and now it’ll be easier to protect neglected pets
  • ‘Severe drought’ covers about 75 percent of state
  • Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito among Abigail Adams Award honorees

TOP OF THE HILL

Worcester the site for one of seven hearings for feedback on new Pike tolling system, rates

Chugging toward an Oct. 28 launch when the advent of all-electronic tolling will require some drivers to pay more and others less, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation plans seven meetings to hear feedback on new rates.

Union Station

Wikimedia Commons

Union Station

Unlike the current system of charging drivers depending where they enter and exit along the Massachusetts Turnpike, each of the new 16 electronic gantries will charge drivers as they pass below and they have been placed in different locations from the toll plazas. There are currently 26 toll plaza locations.

Adopting the proposed rates would mean some pay less and some pay more, as MassDOT seeks a revenue-neutral structure that conforms to the new geographic alignment of electronic toll-takers.

For drivers with EZPassMA transponders, MassDOT estimates 48.5 percent will see an increase, 46.9 percent will see a decrease, and 4.6 percent will see no change. More than 10 percent will see an increase of 50 cents or more, and 4.9 percent will have a toll removed.

A trip from Natick to downtown Boston would drop by 5 cents, while Natick to Weston would increase by 15 cents, according to a MassDOT presentation. Trips from Newton Corner to Boston would increase 50 cents, while trips from Weston to Boston would fall 30 cents.

For a person driving two ways on the Turnpike every weekday of the year, a 50-cent increase would add up to around $260.

There are 14 gantries between the New York line and Logan Airport, and drivers who have no form of transponder would pay significantly more under the plan, racking up 30-cent fees at each gantry, with costs adding up to $6.10 more than EZPassMA drivers would pay traveling the length of the state.

Drivers without a Massachusetts-issued transponder also will miss out on a discount that adds up to $1.90 less than EZPassMA drivers for travel over the entirety of Interstate 90 in Massachusetts.

The department is holding hearings Sept. 6 in Worcester’s Union Station; Sept. 7 at North Shore Community College in Lynn; Sept. 12 at Newton City Hall; Sept. 13 at Framingham Town Hall; Sept. 14 at Allston’s Jackson Mann School; Sept. 14 at Springfield City Hall; and Sept. 15 at MassDOT’s highway offices in Lenox. State officials announced the hearing schedule on Wednesday.

A Berkshires lawmaker wants to know why drivers in the Springfield and Worcester areas will receive a break under all-electronic tolling while others along the toll road will continue to pay, and he plans to ask officials about that at the Sept. 15 hearing.

MassDOT officials have noted the gantry locations were determined by the Patrick administration and left unaddressed the philosophy behind leaving areas around the state’s second- and third-largest cities gantry-free.

“What was the rationale behind that? We’re building a casino in Springfield,” Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox, asked the News Service, saying the state appears to be leaving revenue on the table. He said, “I’m not getting answers on why there’s no tolls there.”

On- and off-ramps to the Mass Pike will start looking very different this fall, and some in the Worcester and Springfield areas will become free.

Wikimedia Commons

On- and off-ramps to the Mass Pike will start looking very different this fall, and some in the Worcester and Springfield areas will become free.

Pignatelli said he favors a new commuter toll discount for drivers who regularly use the turnpike, similar to the discount residents of Charlestown, Chelsea and East Boston receive on tolled roads near them.

The lawmaker likened his idea to a current discount carpool program — where the vehicle must have three or more passengers for the transponder to be used — although his commuter pass would not include a passenger requirement. Pignatelli has filed his proposal as a bill (H 4438), which was sent to the legislative graveyard of a study order this session, and he said he plans to ask about the idea and the lack of gantries in Springfield and Worcester when MassDOT holds a hearing in Lenox.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board on Monday moved ahead with plans to demolish the Interstate 90 toll plazas by the end of 2017 as part of the effort to switch to electronic tolling along the turnpike, the Tobin Bridge and Boston tunnels. Toll-plaza removal and reconstruction, excluding the Sumner Tunnel, will cost about $133 million. The cost of designing and building the all-electronic tolling system is about $130 million.

— Andy Metzger


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Gov. Baker joins Gumdrop at pet protection bill signing


IN THE NEWS

‘Severe drought’ covers about 75 percent of state

In the midst of a summer devoid of significant rainfall, all of Massachusetts is now at least “abnormally dry” and the portion feeling the effects of a “severe drought” or worse has expanded to cover almost 75 percent of the state, including a majority of Worcester County, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

08-25DroughtGIF

The Drought Monitor, a collaboration between federal government agencies and educational institutions, added large swaths of Plymouth and Bristol counties to its “severe drought” category on Thursday, bringing the total area of the state under that classification to 55.36 percent.

The Monitor also declared Nantucket — which had been the one part of the state yet to be classified at all — “abnormally dry,” one step short of a drought. Nantucket and a sliver of western Berkshire County are the only areas of the state not considered to be in a drought, the Monitor said.

There was no change to the area classified as dealing with an “extreme drought” Thursday. All of Suffolk County, almost all of Essex County, most of Middlesex and Norfolk counties, and a slice of Plymouth County — a total of 16.86 percent of the state’s landmass and a sizable chunk of its population — remain in an “extreme drought,” the second-highest category the Drought Monitor uses.

Boston has measured just 1.72 inches of rain so far in August, almost an inch short of average, according to the National Weather Service. The city got just 0.87 inches of rainfall in July, more than 2.5 inches below average. Worcester has seen 3.96 inches this month, but is also an inch below average, the NWS said.

Massachusetts has been under its own official drought declaration since July 1 and the arid conditions have been blamed for contributing to wildfires, an outbreak of gypsy moths, higher rates of ant infestation, smaller-than-usual apples, loss of crops, and an elevated population of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.

“Rainfall during the monitoring period was heaviest in northern New England, although beneficial showers occurred in some of the hardest-hit drought areas. However, rain was neither heavy nor sustained enough to dent the region’s two core areas of severe to extreme drought,” the Drought Monitor wrote. “Through August 23, Northeastern communities with year-to-date precipitation deficits of 7 to 8 inches included Concord, New Hampshire; Boston, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; and Islip, New York.”

Boston Common, Aug. 10

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Boston Common, Aug. 10

Last Sunday, Aug. 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rated 72 percent of pastures in Massachusetts to be in “poor to very poor” condition and rated topsoil moisture “short to very short” across 90 percent of the state.

Based on the Palmer Drought Severity Index, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicator that uses temperature and precipitation data to determine relative dryness, the three-month period between May 1 and July 31 was the driest for those three months in Massachusetts since 1966, and the ninth driest on record.

The Baker administration has encouraged the public to use water-saving techniques — including shortening shower times, sweeping outdoor spaces instead of cleaning them with hoses, and limiting watering of lawns — and to be mindful of the dry conditions when using grills or starting campfires outdoors.

— Colin A. Young


Polito among Abigail Adams Award honorees

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and Rep. Elizabeth Malia, D-Boston, will be among the honorees at this year’s Abigail Adams Awards, the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus announced last week.

Karyn Polito

Lt. Gov. Karyn E. Polito

The women’s civic engagement group is preparing for its 29th annual tribute to Adams, a Weymouth native and the politically minded wife of President John Adams. A dinner reception is set for Oct. 27 at the Fairmont Copley Plaza.

The caucus says it will honor Polito — a Shrewsbury native, former Republican state representative and Holy Name graduate — for her work as lieutenant governor, co-chairperson of the Massachusetts STEM Advisory Council, and chairperson of the Governor’s Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

Polito and Gov. Charlie Baker re-launched the sexual assault council in April 2015.

Spilka will be recognized for her “commitment to progressive politics and women’s issues,” with a focus on her contributions this year to the pay equity bill that Baker signed into law on Aug. 1. Her district includes Ashland, Framingham, Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway, and parts of Natick and Franklin.

Malia makes the list of honorees in connection with her work on women’s rights and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues. She represents the 11th Suffolk district, which includes parts of Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Roslindale and Dorchester.

The group will also present Adams Awards to Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, the president and CEO of YWCA Boston, in light of the YWCA’s work on women’s and race issues; National Grid of Massachusetts President Marcy Reed, the newly-seated chairperson of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, who has shown “commitment to gender equality in the corporate world”; and Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of The Dimock Center community health complex in Roxbury. The Dimock Center campus includes My Sister’s House, a residential community for women recovering from substance abuse.

The awards recognize “outstanding women leaders who have worked in their personal and professional lives to achieve gender parity for women.”

— Sam Doran

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