Questions For. . . Senator Richard Tisei

tisei.jpgLast week, we snarked on a new piece of legislation proposed by Representative Brad Jones and Senator Richard Tisei called “The Commuter Bill of Rights.” With the impending toll hikes on the Pike and our infrastructure crumbling around us, we talked to Senator Tisei about how the bill could save us from new tolls, and if he could work our commuter demands into the legislation.

How did the idea for this legislation come about?
A few months ago, a special commission looked at transport needs and found that Massachusetts would need $20 billion for the next 20 years to maintain its infrastructure. The follow-up to that study will come out pretty soon and will recommend how we make up the $20 billion. In anticipation, we want to lay some markers down before the debate starts. There are a lot of revenue raising ideas being mentioned. Before we go down that road, we should look at what we have right now. Look for inefficiencies, reform our current programs, and find different ways that we can do business.

For instance, 80 percent of MassHighway employees’ salaries are paid by bonds. That’s the equivalent of paying their salaries by credit card over a 20-year period. Forty percent of MassHighway’s budget pays debt service on capital and employees. Out of all the states, we’re the only one that relies on this process. People wouldn’t mind paying more, but they have to feel that the current money is being spent properly.

The MBTA has a customer bill of rights that guarantees that if a train or bus is more than half an hour late, they’ll refund your fare. Is there any way to work this technology into the tollbooths on the Pike?
Like if it takes more than an hour to get from Wakefield to Boston you get your money back? That would be good. It would be interesting. New tollbooths, like the ones proposed for I-93, will exasperate commuters, and that should be a consideration going forward.

What’s your biggest commuting pet peeve?
Traffic. It’s horrendous. On 93 South, the backup goes to Stoneham. Even with the Big Dig’s promise to relieve traffic congestion, it seems worse than it was before the project began. Under normal circumstances, I can be from my house to the State House in 15 minutes, but during rush hour it takes an hour. To put a tollbooth up on 93 would make that commute even longer.

Governor Patrick has put out some proposals, and we like some of his ideas, but we don’t like the idea of building a commuter rail line to Fall River or New Bedford. With the money we need to spend on infrastructure that needs repair, spending $1.6 billion on a rail line that the federal government won’t participate in because ridership would be too low and the losses are too high isn’t a good plan. We want to put the breaks on pie-in-the-sky projects, and we should repair what we already have. If we build anything else it should make sense and not be only for political reasons.

Could you possibly add in some language about women who apply makeup while they’re driving or riding the train? Because that freaks us out.
I’ll consider that.