I-90 in Massachusetts no longer a "Fast Lane"

As states struggle to cut budget deficits, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick proposed merging transportation departments in the state, eliminating the Turnpike Authority which governed the Massachusetts Turnpike (MassPike), a 138-mile stretch of Interstate 90 connecting the New York Thruway to Boston.

Under the old arrangement, the MassPike was run by the Turnpike Authority. Because the Authority ran the highway through tolls and did not use federal funds, it had the authority to sell sponsorships to the highway, which it did to the tune of $500,000 a year to Citizens Bank for “Fast Lane” sponsorship, according to the Boston Herald.

fast_lane_sign.jpgFast Lane is nothing more than the electronic toll booths, allowing frequent travelers of the road to use transponders to bypass stopping and paying tolls.

The article went on to say that the 2009 transportation reform law eliminated the Turnpike Authority, essentially transferring ownership of the highway to the state Dept. of Transportation (MassDOT). That meant the road would now fall under Federal Highway Administration oversight. FHA does not allow sponsorships.

“These changes were supposed to save money, but once again the toll payers are left holding the bag,” Mary Connaughton, a former board member of the Turnpike Authority, told the Herald.

Travelers will see no major changes, except for some new signs, other than the rebranding of the Fast Lane name to E-Zpass. Transponders and billing will continue to operate normally, officials told the Herald.

The contract with Citizens Bank has 10 months remaining on it, which MassDOT told the paper would continue until it runs out, but no future sponsorships will be sold.

I’m sure there are real reasons for the government to not allow sponsorships, but isn’t it time to revisit that policy. Massachusetts will be out some $500,000 a year, money it will have to find somewhere because the road still needs to be maintained.

Meanwhile, some states are looking to sell entire stretches of highways to private enterprises to raise money. And billboards, although not owned by states, are popping up all along highways. What’s more distracting to drivers: a billboard with a scantily clad woman promoting the local “adult entertainment” store, as appears here in Connecticut, or a sign above a toll booth that says “Citizens Bank Fast Lane”?

I think it’s just another instance of unnecessary government interference.

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