The Massachusetts tolls system consist of the entire length of the
Massachusetts Turnpike, from Logan Airport in East Boston to the New
York border, as well as the SUMNER TUNNEL (outbound from the airport),
the TED WILLIAMS TUNNEL (outbound from the airport) and the TOBIN BRIDGE
(inbound to Boston).
Toll money allows the state to repay bonds originally issued to help build this infrastructure.
Tolls can sometimes be a controversial subject to those who are outraged by the requirement to pay for using roads and bridges. As best as I can tell, the feeling is one of being literally nickeled and dimed, every time one has to run across a certain route. However tolls are potentially one of the fairest and most effective forms of taxation in existence because they literally offer one a choice of paying or not paying the tax, and a direct benefit if they do pay it.
Tolls are in use throughout the world, and while people may balk at the $4 bridges and $7 highways, consider that in parts of Western Europe, comparable tolls can be three times that amount. The basis for a toll is to issue a bond for the building of a roadway, bridge or tunnel to collect the money up front. The bonds are sold to citizens, who then are paid a regular coupon amount for a certain number of years, or they are paid at the end of the term of the bond, a larger amount than their purchase price. The tolls collected essentially fill up the fund which will be required to pay back the lenders. The other way to pay for roads (and this is how most roads are built) is to use current tax money, which often is not enough at one time to fund expensive infrastructure projects. Additionally, tax money comes from all residents in a jurisdiction, rather than from those who will actually use the road, bridge or tunnel. In some states such as Massachusetts, toll roads are actually privatized, meaning that companies are actually granted the rights to build a road and collect toll money for it for a certain number of years, after which they will grant the road back to the state. This removes the government involvement in the whole process, cuts red tape, and in theory creates an incentive for the builder to be faster, more efficient and less corrupt than the government might be. The state gets a say in what the toll amount will be but essentially if the toll is too high, people will just avoid the road. Because of the unique funding arrangement of tolls, the roads are often maintained better than tax funded roads because instead of having to apply for funds every time a repair is needed, projects are pre-funded by the bond.
Other than objection to paying them, tolls have traditionally created other problems such as:
Automated tolls have greatly reduced these problems as well as lowered costs for collection. Some states such as New Jersey and New Hampshire have even installed high speed toll readers which allow drivers to maintain their highway speeds as they pass through the plazas. The evolving technology along with good toll plaza design continues to improve the shortcomings of tolls, making their justification harder and harder to dispute.
One major European city has a three period pricing system in place for the tolls on highways around and into its city. During peak periods such as rush hour and vacation periods, the tolls are the most expensive (red zone). At other times, primarily in the middle of the day, the tolls are at their normal level (yellow zone). And late at night, the toll price dips to a discounted level (green zone).
This oft overlooked system in the US, is a tremendous opportunity both for funding and traffic management. Those who must travel for work pay the highest tolls, but the assumption is that if you work in the city, you generate enough income to be able to afford it. Additionally, because the toll is a work expense you might be able to deduct the tolls from your taxes. It creates an incentive for people to travel at night. For example, people who go out to the countryside or the coast on summer weekends, will receive a discount if they delay their travel until later in the evening. This reduces traffic at peak hours and less traffic also means less pollution.
I used to go to the Cape in the summers as a kid, with one of my best friends whose family owned a house there. And one of the things that came hand in hand with going to the Cape was the long boring ride and the crazy backups on Friday afternoon. In those days, we had CB radios not cell phones, and I can remember talking with our friends who were also crammed into the back of their family Grand Tourinos watching the red lights on Route 3. Today, I view the Cape commute with less sentimentality and more practicality, wondering why the state has never considered what I'd like to propose:
Why not build the Cape Cod Expressway, a two lane toll only widening of the existing Route 3, from the Braintree Split to the Sagamore Bridge? Here is how it would work:
Why it would work: