I-Team: Transportation Leader Apologizes For Surprising Drivers With Tobin Bridge Tolls

BOSTON (CBS) – A top Massachusetts transportation official is apologizing after the I-Team revealed that the state will soon be collecting tolls in both directions on the Tobin Bridge.

On Tuesday, MassDOT also revealed the anticipated “go live” date of electronic tolling on the Massachusetts Turnpike could be pushed back as crews test equipment this summer and determine the costs to drivers.

MassDOT Highway Administrator Thomas Tinlin acknowledged the transportation department should have done a better job informing the public of the upcoming change on the Tobin Bridge.

“Frankly, I apologize to people who felt like this was a surprise,” said Tinlin. “It’s not like we’re coming in the middle of the night and trying to do something sneaky.”

MassDOT officials say these new toll gantries were installed on the northbound side of the Tobin Bridge Friday in preparation to collect $1.25 from drivers leaving Boston. Currently, drivers travelling on the northbound side don’t pay anything.

New Tobin Bridge toll gantry (WBZ-TV)

New Tobin Bridge toll gantry (WBZ-TV)

Tinlin said several meetings were held three years ago, but a reminder should have gone out earlier.

“At the end of the day, we have to be more in tune with our customers, the people that we serve,” said Tinlin. “Surprises are never a good thing.”

It currently costs $2.50 to drive into Boston on the Tobin. Before the end of the year, an all-electronic tolling system will charge drivers $1.25 each way, so it will not cost drivers any extra money if they take the bridge roundtrip.

But many commuters plan their routes to avoid paying the toll. One such commuter, who takes the Tobin Bridge every day, contacted the I-Team when he noticed new all-electronic tolling infrastructure suddenly appear last week.

Tinlin explained the change is intended to make it fair and equitable for all drivers to “share the burden” of paying for bridge maintenance.

He said a similar change is coming to the harbor tunnels. Drivers will soon pay in each direction instead of only going through a toll as they leave Logan Airport.

Electronic toll gantry above Mass. Pike in Newton (WBZ-TV)

Electronic toll gantry above Mass. Pike in Newton (WBZ-TV)

Commuters have also noticed electronic tolling gantries sprouting up along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

MassDOT had originally anticipated that project would “go live” in October. However, spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard told the I-Team that target date will likely be delayed.

Goddard said software testing will be done this summer on the new equipment. The expectation is the electronic tolls will be activated by the end of the year.

The cost of each tolling gantry has not been decided. Goddard said MassDOT will be appointing a toll payer advocate to help with the public engagement process of setting the rates.

Goddard said travel on I-90 will be “revenue neutral” and will also be free in some parts of the state, like Worcester and Springfield.

“Because a driver will enter the road and leave the road without traveling under gantries due to where they are located,” Goddard explained.

Tinlin said transparency will be crucial.

“We need to keep people informed about what they should be expecting on their daily commutes,” he said.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Karen Twomey reports

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