OP-ED: State Rep. Jim Miceli Opposes Bill That Creates New Tolls On Route 2, I-95, I-93

WILMINGTON, MA — Below is a recent op-ed submitted by State Rep. Jim Miceli:

Recently I have received a number of calls from rightfully concerned residents about a proposal here on Beacon Hill titled An Act Establishing the Metropolitan Transportation Network (S1959). While this bill seems to be named innocently enough, perhaps suggesting development of road and rail infrastructure to help commuters, it in fact does the exact opposite. Rather than focus on improving performance with money already collected by the gas tax, vehicle registration, and other revenue sources S1959 audaciously proposes the addition of tolls to Route 2, I-95, I-93. This, proponents of the bill argue, would help launch Massachusetts into a “golden age” of freshly-paved highways, on-time trains, and buses to anywhere one could go via an increase in funding. I could not further disagree with these claims.

I can already imagine the arguments that many of the proponents of this legislation will pitch in the coming weeks, ranging from encouraging the use of public transportation like the MBTA to additional funding for repairs to roads and bridges. While some of these arguments such as dissuading the use of cars will hold true to a small degree, it is clear that the costs of this proposal will far outweigh the benefits. My first concern is the cost to folks like us in Wilmington and Tewksbury. Working class families, with many modern day families relying on both guardians to provide income, already pay weekly at the pump. In Massachusetts, an average commuter pays .24 cents per gallon to the Commonwealth, and 18.4 cents per gallon to the federal government to maintain and support the roads, tunnels, and bridges. In fact, the White House has suggested raising the federal tax on drivers in order to finance a one-trillion dollar infrastructure works program, failing to disclose even a prediction of how much of an increase will occur per gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel. Folks already pay to two tiers of government filling up, and this is in addition to the percentage of their other taxes taken from the general revenue fund to support our transportation network. By adding tolls to highways that provide many working class folks access to their jobs miles away, we will be triple-dipping into motorists pockets who are simply commuting to work everyday to make a living.  S1959 seeks to charge people “equally” based on the mileage of road one uses to get to Boston. That leaves the wealthiest of people who live in the immediate vicinity of Boston or the city itself, using the expensive-to-operate subway, free of any additional burden. Instead, it places the burden on those who are not well-off enough to afford property in Boston to pick up the additional cost. With Boston’s rapid growth, despite housing construction, we can only expect people to move to the suburbs of Boston who cannot afford to live in the city itself. This is an additional tax on the middle and lower class, who are already picking up an additional burden by having to commute to begin with.

Secondly, in addition to increasing the burden on mostly working folks I find it unfair and deceiving to implement tolls on roads already constructed and paid for without a tolling mechanism. The tolls placed on the Mass Pike were intended to fund its construction, and pay off the bonds and maintenance of the road through the years. As it is a heavily utilized road for out of state traffic, the tolls collected help Massachusetts residents avoid paying higher taxes by directing costs in a far manner, and capture tax revenue that out of state residents would avoid despite using Massachusetts public services. While Route 93 provides access to New Hampshire easily, the cross-border toll-free exchange between the two states promotes economic growth that the emplacement of tolls would greatly impact and degrade. While I feel for Massachusetts residents who may rely on the Mass Pike as a daily commute, we should be focusing on how to reduce or eliminate tolls rather than spread the use of tolls across the entirety of the Commonwealth.

Finally, aside from the ridiculous notion that we need more money I find it quite upsetting that the legislation requires no in-depth review or reflection on how money is already spent. The subway system is in need of repairs, the MBTA Commuter Rail has implemented a ridiculous fare collection system, and while our roadways are making ground we still have much work to be done. Why wouldn’t S1959, instead of increasing revenue collection first and foremost, require Massachusetts to take a look to compare our performance to other states? I believe that the state could learn from our neighbors and colleagues across the country, or even from other nations, in order to find the most efficient construction, maintenance, and logistical practices which would cost little or nothing to implement.

I and many other legislators are concerned about the state of the MBTA, highways, and roads and bridges in our local community and how we may finance their maintenance and repairs.  Despite these concerns I do not believe the idea that even more money is the solution, especially when it is collected off the back of the contractor, nurse, teacher, or other working individual. We chose to live in Tewksbury or Wilmington because of our proximity to Boston, good schools, and safe community, but also for its affordability. Tolling innocent commuters, already working extra, is not the solution. If S1959 is to make an appearance on the floor, I do not intend to support it.

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