Gearing up for interstate tolling

If the Obama administration has its way, a prospect far from assured, states soon will be able to toll interstate highways. A US Department of Transportation proposal, embedded in the $302 billion federal surface transportation reauthorization bill, would allow state officials to establish tolls on roads such as Interstate 93 in order to raise revenue for infrastructure repairs.

The reason for the move is simple: The federal Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money in August. If Congress allows that fund to run out of gas, states trying to repair winter-damaged roads would have to halt work, prompting construction season layoffs.

It gets worse. According to a Transportation for America report released Wednesday, Massachusetts stands to lose $956.6 million in federal transportation funding in fiscal 2015 should Congress fail to act to bolster the trust fund. 

 

From 2001 to 2012, 38 percent of the Bay State’s transportation capital funds originated in Washington. The rest of New England has been even more dependent on federal aid than the Bay State: 56 percent of Maine’s transportation capital budget relies on federal funding; New Hampshire comes in at 64 percent and Connecticut at 70 percent. Rhode Island’s capital budget is entirely federally funded, with a whopping 98 percent of its funding coming from Washington, the highest in the country.

Allowing states to do their own thing sounds like a plan. The move would generate funds for states that have been thwarted by the federal prohibition on tolling roads. The International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association supports the bill.

It’s a plan, however, that has already marshaled strong opposition. Established in February, the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, a coalition of trucking, restaurants, vehicle rental, and other groups, argues that tolling interstate highways will increase costs to businesses and force traffic onto smaller non-tolled roads.

The American Automobile Association also opposes the Obama administration’s proposal, although it supports tolling in “in certain circumstances.” AAA, along with the powerful US Chamber of Commerce, favors an increase in the federal gas tax. But fearful of voter backlash, Washington has had no appetite to raise the federal gas tax, which stands at 18.4 cents a gallon, is not indexed to inflation, and was last raised in 1993.

Interstate tolling has long been a hot button issue in the Bay State. If Congress approves the plan, expect a new debate over tolling Interstate 93 to erupt. The idea percolated back in 2008 but petered out due to the federal prohibition. Revisiting that option is certain to spark fierce opposition from northeastern communities.

–GABRIELLE GURLEY    

BEACON HILL

Olga Roche is out as commissioner, a longtime transportation agency manager with no background in child services is in, and the problems of a broken Department of Children and Families remain. Greater Boston wonders if DCF commissioners are put in a no-win position. The state social workers union says there is a “caseload crisis” contributing to the high-profile problems at DCF and called for an increase in the budget to hire hundreds more social workers to ease the burden.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Lowell City Council approves a plan to renew the blighted Tanner Street area in the Ayers City section of Lowell with parks and a greenway. It also pursues a new hotel downtown, the Sun reports.

Mayor Marty Walsh is pushing for a pay raise for Boston police commissioner William Evans, who earns less as the city’s top cop than 204 others in the department earned last year.

A group of Weymouth crossing guards was offered their jobs back after the state Employment Relations Board upheld a decision that determined the town wrongly terminated them and replaced them with lower-paid, non-union workers.

There were no injuries as a building at Suffolk Downs in Revere went up in flames due to a kitchen fire, the Item reports.

The Brockton City Council gave final approval for funding to replace severance payments to the former mayor’s staff that resulted in a shortfall in Mayor William Carpenter’s staff budget and forced furloughs and threatened layoffs in his office.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A New York Times editorial praises a federal court’s rejection of Wisconsin’s voter identification law.

ELECTIONS

William Lantigua’s signature drive for his old state rep seat is successful. He will appear on the ballot as an independent along with incumbent Democrat Marcos Devers, Republican Roger Twomey, and fellow independent Rafael Gadea, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Meanwhile, an East Boston man who vandalized Lantigua’s truck when he was mayor is ordered to pay $2,500 in restitution and stay away from the former mayor.

Salem Police Chief Paul Tucker is the favorite to replace outgoing Rep. John Keenan since his only opposition is a 20-year-old Salem State student, the Salem News reports.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The California company producing the hit Netflix show House of Cardssays it will film season three in Maryland even though the state came up with only $11.5 million of the $15 million the firm said it wanted, Governing reports.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh unveils a new economic vision for the city, the Associated Press reports. A Herald editorial praises Walsh’s moves to streamline permitting; the paper, which issued a rare anyone-but-Walsh anti-endorsement last September, appears to be warming to the new mayor.

New data from the World Bank indicate China could surpass the US as the world’s largest economy later this year, Time reports.

The NBA bans LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life after his racist rant. Fans in LA come out in support of the team. The Globe’s Jeff Jacoby says Sterling’s remarks were “odious,” but wonders where we’re headed when there’s so little concern expressed over the fact that the scandal sprang from an illegally recorded private conversation. Massachusetts sports business attorney Michael McCann has a very informative, in-depth piece in Sports Illustrated looking at many of the ramifications and possible outcomes of the controversy from all points of view.

Thomas Piketty has it mostly wrong, writes fellow Frenchman Guy Sorman in City Journal.

The Consumer Confidence Index dropped in April after reaching a six-year high the previous month.

New Census data show that, although young people are moving out of their parents’ homes and into apartments, the national homeownership rate continues to fall; it’s now at its lowest level since the mid-1990’s.

A Wall Street Journal op-ed column argues that the broadband cartel isn’t bringing customers the super-fast internet they want, so a faster internet is going to have to be a taxpayer-subsidized internet.

EDUCATION

The Globe reports on a controversial change in state ratings of school districts that CommonWealth first reported on Friday. The change, which has drawn fire from charter school advocates, would shift several lower-income communities out of the group of districts where more charter school growth is allowed and replace them with middle-class districts.

Virginia ’s attorney general pushes to extend in-state college tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants.

HEALTH & HEALTH CARE

A synthetic drug linked to dozen of overdose deaths across the Northeast has been found in a batch of heroin in Boston.

TRANSPORTATION

One of every two taxis in Lynn fail their annual inspection, the Item reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Supreme Court upholds the EPA’s ability to regulate cross-state coal emissions, likely clearing the path for this summer’s emissions caps on existing power plants.

Federal fishing reports paint a grim picture of the industry, the Gloucester Times reports.

Marshfield voters approved a new bylaw encouraging homeowners on the coast to raise their homes to protect against severe flooding but the town’s fire chief says the change could hinder firefighting.

In a Union Leader op-ed, Scott Brown calls for approval of the Keystone pipeline.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

An Oklahoma prison inmate dies from a heart attack after a planned execution using a new drug goes awry and leaves him writhing, the Associated Press reports.

A 59-year-old woman is arrested in Lynn for assaulting and stabbing her boyfriend over a two-day period, the Item reports.

A rape suspect is released from jail after a judge rules that a DNA test meant to rule out the suspect’s twin brother, which could take two months to process, would deprive the suspect of his right to a speedy trial.

MassLive traces the history of the death penalty in Massachusetts, from the Salem witch trials to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s pending federal trial. The story notes that while the death penalty is explicitly protected under the state constitution, there’s currently no law on the books for implementing the death penalty in state criminal trials.

MEDIA

Ten news organizations gather to discuss and evaluate different approaches to online engagement. One of those organizations, the Daily Beast, has a value-per-visitor metric that measures how visitors to the site read, comment, share, tweet, email, click a link, or click an app, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

The Onion is launching a rejoinder to traffic-hungry websites like BuzzFeed and UpWorthy, ClickHole.com.

The cast for the new Star Wars is a blend of old and new.