Spilka scores victory on I-90 Allston project
Baker administration says tolls will not go up to pay for it
SENATE PRESIDENT Karen Spilka took a tour several weeks ago of the aging transportation infrastructure the state is looking to replace in the Allston area.
She walked underneath the badly deteriorated elevated section of the Massachusetts Turnpike. She inspected the commuter rail tracks and Soldiers Field Road and got a sense of how much stuff the state was trying to cram into a narrow section of land between Boston University and the Charles River that has come to be known as the throat.
“You see firsthand how tight it is,” Spilka said.
At the time of the tour, hosted by Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler, the Baker administration had not made any decision about how to replace all those roads and tracks. At the conclusion of the tour, Spilka remembers being a bit agnostic on what repair approach should be adopted. “I’m not an engineer,” she said.
On Wednesday last week, Tesler said he was moving ahead with an ambitious $1.7 billion plan to replace all the transportation elements in the throat at ground level and straighten the Turnpike to make room for a new neighborhood being built by Harvard University. He said the project will most likely be paid for with money from Harvard University, the city of Boston, potential funds from a massive infrastructure bill pending somewhat precariously in Washington, and existing toll revenue. Tesler said emphatically that tolls would not be increased to help pay for the project.
“Music to my ears,” said Spilka on Monday following a meeting with Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Ronald Mariano. “I’m thrilled that there’s the recognition within the administration on this issue of fairness and that tolls will not be increased to pay for this project.”
There are few issues Spilka is more passionate about than tolls. She believes tolls are incredibly unfair to her constituents west of Boston. If they are such a great way to maintain a roadway, she said, then the principle should be extended more broadly across the state so the pain is shared. In the meantime, she wasn’t going to stand for hiking tolls any higher.
“It’s not fair to have it just on one major road,” she said.
Spilka inserted language into a transportation bond bill during the last legislative session that would have barred any increase in tolls to pay for the Allston project. That section of the bill (6720-2127) was vetoed by Baker and failed to become law with the session expiring.
Baker indicated on Monday he had no plans to raise tolls to pay for the project, and suggested it never came up in discussions with Spilka.
“I never had a conversation of any significance with the Senate President on that issue,” he said.
Now she says she will be focusing on the next steps, making sure that two commuter rail tracks remain open at all times throughout the 6 to 10 years expected for construction and that plenty of mitigation is provided to help Pike users navigate the construction work.