By Seth Daniel
A top state transportation official apologized to drivers last week after a Boston media outlet reported that tolling in both directions on the Mystic/Tobin Bridge is set to roll out this year – a plan that has Everett officials very upset.
Tom Tinlin of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) told the i-Team in Boston last week that several meetings were held three years ago, but a reminder should have gone out earlier before the state began installing equipment – which was done on northbound Tobin lanes last Friday – and preparing for tolling in the northbound direction.
“At the end of the day, we have to be more in tune with our customers, the people that we serve,” Tinlin told the i Team. “Surprises are never a good thing.”
Two-way tolling was in place many years ago on the Tobin Bridge, but was discontinued in favor of charging only those coming into Charlestown from Chelsea one larger fee. The two-way plan made a comeback three years ago when the state Department of Transportation (DOT) began an All Electronic Tolling (AET) program. That program went into place more than a year ago in the southbound Tobin lanes.
The new program would split the difference on tolls, meaning drivers would pay $1.25 either way at the regular price. The discount program for Charlestown and Chelsea residents, however, would remain in place and also be split in half, the DOT previously reported.
“We have been in contact with MassDOT and have asked them to hold a public meeting in Everett before they begin any new tolling that may have an impact on our community,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria, noting that Tinlin would be meeting with him and councilors in Everett this week. “Massachusetts Highway Commissioner Thomas Tinlin publicly apologized for the miscommunication and promised to be more transparent. I want to thank Administrator Tinlin for the quick response and look forward to continuing to work together to modernize our transportation system in Everett and the surrounding communities.”
In an interview with Fox25 television news, Mayor DeMaria said Everett would be one of the hardest hit communities from the change. He said commuters on Rt. 1 already cut through Everett on Rt. 99 to avoid the Tobin tolls inbound. Now, he said, the same will be true on the outbound trip.
“Any morning you go down to Sweetser Circle or Santilli Circle, you will see the headaches that comes in our community because of people avoiding the toll inbound on the Tobin Bridge,” said Councilor Michael McLaughlin. “Now we’re going to have that in the afternoon too. I think it is important to note that the state didn’t talk to any Everett elected officials before they started this. They are dumping thousands of cars on the streets of Everett and creating a public safety nightmare. If an ambulance has to get to the hospital in Boston – as happened to me last summer – and they can’t, that will be a disaster for us.”
He also said he wants Everett to be included in the Community Discount program, which is now only for East Boston, Charlestown, North End and Chelsea.
“Out of all the communities that are currently in that program, Everett will be more affected by this than any of them,” he said.
The plan for two-way tolling was reported almost three years ago in the Chelsea Record, the Independent’s sister paper, when a state environmental filing revealed the plans deep within a 52-page document. At the time, the plan included the Harbor tunnels in Eastie as well, but those have been pulled from the AET program until a later date.
“Starting with public meetings in 2013, MassDOT officials have stated that the Tobin Bridge would have a toll in one direction only as long as cash payments were being taken but then would return to having tolls in each direction after All Electronic Tolling is activated state-wide,” said Jacquelyn Goddard, spokesperson for the DOT. “As stated publicly, the tolls will be revenue-neutral, so a driver crossing on the Tobin and paying $2.50 now to travel southbound and traveling for free northbound, will, after electronic tolling goes ‘live,’ pay $1.25 to travel southbound and $1.25 to travel northbound. Several days ago, gantry infrastructure was installed by MassDOT on the Tobin Bridge over northbound lanes but northbound tolls are not scheduled to be ‘live’ until the end of the year, at such time as All Electronic Tolling is scheduled to go ‘live’ state-wide.”
The DOT anticipates testing the software on the new equipment installed in the northbound lanes this summer, even if they don’t officially start charging until later in the year.
Councilors McLaughlin and Anthony DiPierro have put in for a hearing before the Government Operations Committee regarding the two-way tolling issue.