Biz group outlines roadway pricing proposal

Says $50 billion is needed for transportation over next 20 years

THE BUSINESS GROUP A Better City estimates Massachusetts will need to raise a minimum of $50 billion over the next 20 years to meet transportation needs, and is proposing a series of specific revenue measures, including increased taxes and assessments on gas; higher rideshare fees; a surcharge on commercial parking spaces; and new tolls on major highways, at the state’s borders, and at the entrance to Logan International Airport.

The group’s finance plan estimates $10 billion is needed to bring roads, bridges, tunnels, and the MBTA into a state of good repair over the next 10 years. Another $10 billion is also needed over the next decade, the group says, “to increase roadway and transit capacity across the state.” The report identifies a number of projects and initiatives that are needed but currently unfunded, including the new Allston I-90 interchange and West Station, South Station expansion, new MBTA bus maintenance facilities, a subway connection between the Red and Blue Lines, and the launch of a new subway-like commuter rail system.

The final $30 billion is needed to “modernize, decarbonize, and transform our statewide transportation system” over the next 20 years, the report says. The big ticket items are climate resiliency measures ($6 billion), commuter rail electrification ($6 billion), high-speed rail to the western part of the state ($5 billion), and a host of other measures.

The numbers are big and the tolling proposal is expansive. But Rick Dimino, the president and CEO of A Better City, says the approach his organization took in estimating revenue needs was conservative and the tolling proposal is only illustrative of what could be done. He said many other cities are already taking similar steps – Toronto $60 billion over 20 years, Los Angeles $120 billion over 40 years, and Seattle $54 billion over 25 years,

“We’re just taking reasonable, almost baby steps,” he says of his organization’s proposal.

The goal, Dimino says, is not just to raise revenue but also change consumer behavior, spurring more and more drivers to get out of their cars and find other ways to get around.

The revenue proposal from A Better City is one of the first from the business community to set out a specific roadway pricing plan that would raise 54 percent of the $50 billion the group says is needed. Dimino says the plan could start being implemented in July 2022, assuming state law is changed to allow it and Massachusetts wins approval from the Federal Highway Administration to participate in its value pricing pilot program.

Starting July 1, 2022, Dimino would hike by 15 percent existing tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Tobin Bridge, and the Sumner, Callahan, and Ted tunnels. He would also assess a new $2 toll on cars going in both directions on I-93, a new $1 toll at the interchanges between I-93 and I-95 in Burlington and in Canton, and new $1 tolls at nine spots along the state’s border with Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Together, these new tolls would raise an estimated $7.8 billion over a decade, assuming the rates are increased every five years.

Starting July 1, 2021, A Better City is proposing a new $2.50 toll to drive into Logan Airport. He says that toll would affect about 13 million vehicles each year and generate $400 million over the next decade, part of which would be shared with the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport.

Starting January 1, 2021, A Better City recommends hiking rideshare fees from the current level of 20 cents a ride to $1.70 a ride. The business group also recommends a $1 fee per day on the estimated 30,000 commercial parking spaces in the state, and a 10 percent increase in all Registry of Motor Vehicle fees.

Two of the larger revenue items are assessments on automobile fuels. A Better City proposes a one-time increase in the gas tax of 11.5 cents a gallon on January 1, 2021, and an assessment on wholesalers of automobile fuels that would start raising $250 million in 2022, ramping up to $450 million by 2030, after which revenues would rise $50 million each year. A Better City said policymakers could take a different approach with fuel assessments, hiking the gas tax by 25 cents a gallon initially and then scaling the tax back as more and more revenues from the so-called transportation climate initiative start coming in.

Together, the new gas tax revenues and the transportation climate initiative would bring in nearly 35 percent of the money being sought by A Better City. Higher fees on Uber and Lyft rides, new fees on commercial parking spaces, higher Registry of Motor Vehicle fees , and other measures would account for 11.5 percent of the money needed,

Gov. Charlie Baker is pushing for the transportation climate initiative, which would be implemented on a regional basis. He is also advocating for an $18 billion bond bill, which is an authorization for the state to borrow money for a number of projects already underway or planned.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“While many of the bond bill proposals are worth supporting, the bill proposes borrowing against future federal funds to pay for the needs of today,” the A Better City report says. “Moreover, the bill is silent on how to address most of the recommendations supported by the Future of Transportation Commission, particularly with respect to decarbonization, resiliency, enhanced regional rail, and electrification of our commuter rail network.”

A Better City is a business organization with members from a variety of industry sectors. The group’s report was researched and written by the staff of the organization, with input from Jim Aloisi, a board member of the advocacy group TransitMatters and a former secretary of transportation.