Expect backups at Exit 17
(Globe staff photo by Lane Turner)
From the Globe's "Starts and Stops" column:
Until late 2007, reconstruction work will take place on the Church Street Bridge on the Mass. Pike in Newton.
Lane closures, daytime and nighttime, will be in place at various times in that area on the Mass. Pike east and west. Expect periodic Exit 17 ramp closures.
Also, Church Street traffic near the bridge has been reduced from four lanes to two lanes (one in each direction).
For a complete listing of recent commuter updates, read Starts and Stops online.
(Globe staff photo by David L. Ryan)
A typical commute from Framingham to Boston costs as much as $900 annually in tolls. In January, that amount will increase to $1,150, thanks to toll increases approved Thursday by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board.
Under the new toll structure, typical commuters living outside of Route 128 would pay $1.25 each time they use the Weston (Exit 15) and Allston-Brighton (Exit 18) toll booths. Between the gas tax and the tolls, drivers from the western suburbs would pay more than nine times as much for their commutes than those from Boston's northwest suburbs and on the South Shore, which do not have tolls on their major highways into the city.
The board rejected a second proposed increase that would have raised the Allston-Brighton and Weston tolls to $1.75, adding another $500 to a yearly commute from Framingham.
Even though the increase as voted is smaller than it could have been, it has many commuters, local officials, and politicians questioning whether the cost of the increasingly expensive roadway is still worthwhile, staff writer Ralph Ranalli reports in today's Globe West.
The issue of the toll increases is not necessarily dead, however. The hikes still face a public hearing process and a final board vote, and board member Mary Connaughton - who represents the interests of the western suburbs - has said she will urge her colleagues to reconsider Thursday's vote, instead increasing tolls only in the Boston Harbor tunnels.
Read more about the issue of toll equity in the online edition of today's Globe West.
Also, check out Globe transportation reporter Noah Bierman's report in today's City & Region section on how technology could someday drastically change who pays highway tolls in Massachusetts and how they are collected.
Toll booths in Massachusetts - and across the nation - could be heading the way of manual typewriters and vinyl records.
Instead of fumbling for change or navigating through special lanes in transponder-equipped cars, drivers may soon have to do little more than cruise on and off highways passing under a metal beam spanning the entire width of the road. At the end of the month they'd receive a bill, much like any other utility bill. Except this bill would log each time they entered or exited a highway system, how far they traveled and how much they owed.
The idea is called "open road tolling" and it's a key recommendation of a new report on ways Massachusetts can close a multi-billion gap in transportation funding over the next two decades.
It's more than just an idea. In Melbourne, Toronto and Israel, open road tolling has been a reality for years. States like Texas, Florida and Illinois are already starting to employ the technology.
While the authors of a new report on Massachusetts' transportation funding dilemma concede open road tolling - something they envision for all highways, not just the Massachusetts Turnpike - is still years off, the plan is already drawing fire. Chief among the early critics are privacy activists who say they worry about any plan that allows the government to essentially track the movements of citizens.
Ann Lambert, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said she worries about information being stored indefinitely in databanks.
"They clearly haven't thought through the need for privacy safeguards and the flushing of information after the data isn't needed," Lambert said.
Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials acknowledged yesterday that they are reviewing whether toll increases scheduled for January will be adequate to cover expenses at the financially strapped agency, under pressure from two board members who are warning that a steeper increase is inevitable.
Under a plan approved in the late 1990s, tolls are tentatively scheduled to rise on Jan. 1 from $1 to $1.25 at the Allston and Weston booths and from $3 to $3.75 at the Ted Williams and Sumner tunnels to help cover $1.4 billion in Big Dig debt, reporter Michael Levenson of the Globe's City & Region staff reports today.
"But as of now, the exact amount of the toll increase to fulfill these bond obligations has not been determined," Turnpike spokesman Mac Daniel said in a statement.
The agency, which relies on tolls for 78 percent of its revenue, is facing a $26 million increase in debt payments next year, in addition to $25 million in deferred maintenance and the challenge of continuing to pay $12 million annually for Fast Lane discounts. The planned toll increase is expected to raise only $25 million a year.
Board members Mary Z. Connaughton and Judy M. Pagliuca said that these expenses, which were not anticipated in the 1990s, will drive tolls higher and put an increased burden on motorists. Connaughton said she could not predict how much more tolls would have to increase, but said the increase could be substantial.
Read more about the toll increases in the online version of today's Globe.
Reconstruction of the Orchard Street stone-arch culvert over Bogastow Brook is scheduled to begin next week and will last approximately four weeks, Town Administrator Charles Aspinwall said.
Traffic lanes will be narrowed while the project is underway, and drivers should take care while traveling through the area, he said. Aspinwall said the culvert, which was built in 1931, is the third major culvert in town to undergo reconstruction in the last five years.
-- Calvin Hennick
Boston.com is reporting that the right and middle lanes of the Mass Pike eastbound in Westborough are closed due to a fatal motor vehicle crash.
The lane closures are also causing significant delays on Route 495 North and South approaching the Pike.
Travelers are advised to seek alternate routes as traffic is expected to be heavy until the vehicle is removed. This story is still developing.
(Photo by Lisa Keen for Globe West Updates)
Traffic over the Route 16 bridge in Wellesley will soon shift over to the two westbound lanes as a new contractor prepares to finish work on the project.
The bridge project that is all too familiar to Wellesley drivers is finally under way again.
Construction work to shore up the Route 16 bridge began in August 2003 and was supposed to be finished the following year. Initially, delays were blamed on difficulties with relocating various utility lines but late last year the state highway department declared the contractor on the job to be in default.
State Representative Alice Peisch says a new contractor has been hired and is preparing to finish the work. Traffic is expected to be shifted soon to the two westbound lanes of the bridge.
Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen says he supports maintaining a toll discount for Fast Lane users, and he is calling on lawmakers in the western suburbs to offer help on Beacon Hill.
Transportation reporter Mac Daniel writes in today's Globe:
He said the three-month extension will allow the Turnpike Authority to review its overall financial condition, identify potential savings, and seek help from the Legislature, "as well as to work with the Metrowest delegation to seek legislative relief."
"The legislation that mandated the continuation of the discount didn't come with any funding, so we're going to need partners here in terms of a solution," Cohen said.
State Representative David Linsky, Democrat of Natick, told the Globe he's happy to help, adding, "Quite frankly, my preference would be to drop any discussion of eliminating it."
-- John C. Drake
Suburbanites might think that the proposed MBTA fare hike will have more of an effect on Bostonians who ride the subway everyday. But it actually could affect residents outside the city -- and in some cases make for a cheaper ride.
Read more in Thursday's Globe West.
That's the weight limit the state uses to define a truck. It's also the answer to a question we got from a reader in this week's installment of Starts and Stops/West.
To read our colleague Mac Daniel's Starts and Stops blog, click here. Drive safely.
My colleague, Lisa Kocian, and I were coming back from lunch at the new Guatemalan/Salvadoran cafe on Moody Street in Waltham on Tuesday afternoon around 2 p.m. [Look for my review of Guanachapi's in this Sunday's Globe West.]
Coming down Route 30 towards the Framingham line, we had to slam on the brakes -- a big, red SUV was inexplicably stopped cold, blocking traffic. We couldn't see anything in the way -- no pedestrians, no bicyclists -- no good reason at all to be stopped short.
Impatient to get back to the bureau, we sat there and griped. Finally, traffic started moving again and we saw what the holdup was all about. A huge turtle, with a shell the size of a loaf of bread, was slowwwwly crossing the road in front of us. He made it safely to the other side, and headed happily into the woods.
-- Erica Noonan