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First tea, now tolls: Activists protest hikes

The Turnpike Authority's plan to hike tolls, including at the Sumner Tunnel in East Boston, has sparked much opposition. The Turnpike Authority's plan to hike tolls, including at the Sumner Tunnel in East Boston, has sparked much opposition. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)
By Noah Bierman
November 23, 2008
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Tollpayers, unite! The large toll increases passed on a preliminary vote this month by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority have sparked some fierce antitoll activism in Tea Party Land.

"It's an issue that hits home," said Spencer H. Kimball, a Republican political consultant who snapped up the domain name www.stopthepikehike.org following the vote to raise tolls.

Right after the vote, he got a call from a childhood friend, wine salesman Mike Kelleher, who drives in and out of tunnels about 20 times a week.

"I was outraged," Kelleher said Friday. "I actually just left a physical and my blood pressure was up."

Together, they started planning an effort to gather tollpayers, lobby politicians, pack the upcoming public hearings, and collect names in case they decide to later gather signatures for a ballot initiative to repeal the tolls. They will hold their first rally Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. at Ecco Restaurant in East Boston. Since forming their group, they have joined forces with another group with a similar name, www.stopthehike.org.

Kimball has been out of state much of the time in recent months working on campaigns, but stays in East Boston when he is home, teaching at local colleges. But with his peripatetic lifestyle, he has no resident discount, forcing him to pay full fare instead of 40 cents when he leaves the tunnels. And try getting a cab if you live in East Boston; no one wants to deal with the tunnels, he said.

"I'm a big fan of the T so I don't mind sometimes not having to drive, but the thought of having to pay $7 every time I drive in and out of the area is unconscionable," Kimball said.

Kimball said he would target 2010 for a ballot initiative to repeal the tolls if they receive final approval from the turnpike board and are not otherwise reversed. He said he is not taking a salary now from the organization he just founded, but would probably take one if he works 80 hours a week on a full-time ballot initiative campaign.

So, what is Kimball's answer to paying off the turnpike authority's $2.2 billion debt and maintaining the Big Dig tunnels? He doesn't have one. He said the Legislature should look at a gas tax increase, but does not endorse it. (Doesn't look good for a Republican to be pro-tax.)

"It's the legislators' jobs to come up with the answers to these problems," he said.

Big Dig triumph, or failure?
There is some unfortunate irony in the toll hikes' potential to further isolate East Boston from the rest of the city.

The same Big Dig that reconnected many Boston neighborhoods with the downtown may now be responsible for cutting Eastie off.

Follow the logic: Many contend that the Big Dig's greatest triumph was reconnecting downtown Boston with the North End and the South Boston waterfront. But the Big Dig's high cost is being passed on to residents who use the Sumner and the Ted Williams tunnels, in the form of proposed $7 tolls. Those higher tolls could keep visitors out of East Boston, threatening friendships and businesses.

So is the Big Dig's triumph also its greatest failure?

East Boston residents may feel that way, though I have not heard any of them take out their frustration on the North End and Southie. All three neighborhoods get a resident discount, 40 cents at the tunnels, some political payback to the neighborhoods in exchange for putting up with years of construction.

So even if Eastie is otherwise cut off from the rest of the city, their friends from South Boston and the North End can still visit them on the cheap, as long as the Legislature keeps the discount in place.

T escalator safety
Are you aware of the dangers lurking on escalators? Better yet, did you know that there is an Escalator Safety Foundation? And it sponsors an annual cruise!

I learned this after reader Andrew Horn of Somerville sent me an e-mail with what I thought was an utterly sensible proposal. He wants the MBTA to post signs on its escalators, advising riders to stand on the right and walk on the left. He is annoyed by the number of riders who clog both sides and "take umbrage if one tries politely to squeeze past them."

I forwarded his suggestion to the MBTA. Spokesman Joe Pesaturo responded that "a number of safety experts feel that walking up or down an escalator is not a practice that should be encouraged or promoted."

He went on to provide escalator safety tips, courtesy of the aforementioned Escalator Safety Foundation - which also promotes safety on "moving walks."

"The most common myth about escalators is that you do not have to pay much attention to them," Pesaturo wrote in an e-mail. "The truth is they are six-ton moving machines with more parts than a Swiss clock and should be treated as such."

Maybe we should post signs on Swiss clocks too.

Logan reassesses recycling
Logan International Airport likes to tout itself as green. I know, it's tough to claim air travel helps the environment. But the airport has long had a quirky recycling program.

Citing unspecified security concerns, the airport had recycling bins only in areas beyond the security checkpoints, leaving passengers to throw away plastic bottles and newspapers in garbage cans in the rest of the terminal.

No more. The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the airport, placed a series of bins in the rest of the terminals in recent weeks, using existing security-approved trash cans to collect plastic, aluminum, and glass. But you'll still have to hold onto your newspapers until you pass the security checkpoint.

Send complaints, comments, or story ideas to starts@globe.com. The column and a listing of major road closures and other transportation advisories can be found at www.boston.com/starts.

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