Fighting the Mass Pike Authority — Again

Here’s a story that’s sure to draw a lot of attention in the coming days: Gov. Deval Patrick is supposedly “eyeing” a plan that would eliminate the much-maligned Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. The idea, as it’s outlined in the Herald and Globe, would lead to Patrick dismantling the Mass Pike board of directors, merging Mass Pike with the Massachusetts Highway Department, MBTA and other agencies, and then creating one “super agency to oversee bridges, roads and MBTA services.”

It sounds like our very own Homeland Security Department, which is awesome, because that is one effective government bureaucracy. (Maybe we can get ‘ol Bernie Kerik to run it.)

Jokes aside, why does this whole thing sound so familiar? Oh, that’s right — because Mitt Romney tried to implement a similar plan about 47 times.

Fine, we’re being a bit hyperbolic, but not by much. Romney tried at the beginning of his term, in the middle, and toward the end to do the very thing that Patrick is contemplating. And, time and again, he got his ass kicked. By 2005, after slamming his head into the wall for the umpteenth time, Romney was clearly beaten and frustrated by the process and by the fact that the Turnpike Authority was operating almost autonomously while bilking the taxpayers out of millions every year. Here’s what he said when he submitted his budget recommendation that year.

I’ll ask the Legislature – again – to merge the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority with the Highway Department. That alone will save over $20 million a year and another $190 million in one-time money. Our choice is this: Do we waste $20 million of taxpayer money every year on two highway departments or do we invest in scholarships, schools and teachers? Let’s choose our children.

Love that last line.

The legislature apparently hates kids, because it blocked Romney from getting anything done on this front. Perhaps Patrick will have better luck. Either way, it’s telling that both the former Republican Governor and the current Democratic Governor are on the same page when it comes to reforming the various transportation bureaucracies. The Commonwealth is reportedly running a $20 billion transportation funding deficit.


Inquisitive readers (as if there are any other kind here at Boston Daily) may be wondering if there’s an alternative to merging the various agencies. There is, but it’s not good. According to the Herald, “a special legislative commission charged with recommending solutions to the deficit has called for an 11.5-cent increase in the gas tax and a new 5-cent-per-mile toll system on all 10 interstates.”

Let me be the first to say this about that: WTF? Last year, there was talk about taking down the Mass Pike tolls. Now the legislature is recommending that they tax each and every mile of all 10 interstates? I don’t drive that much, thank god, but if they put that plan into action, I might have to get rid of my car in favor of a horse. (How much do carrots and oats cost these days?)

Let’s hope things don’t get that far. The administration says that it hopes reforming the various transportation agencies will help close the funding deficit. Hell, simply shutting down the Mass Pike Authority — which is notorious for patronage appointments complete with outrageous salaries — ought to help. We hope.