The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will begin to roll out an all-electronic tolling program and a new real-time traffic management system. For drivers, the most immediately noticeable change, especially for anyone who travels the Massachusetts Turnpike, will be overhead structures being erected to support the open-road tolling system that will replace toll takers and booths.
"If you drive the Pike, you've seen the overhead gantries are starting to appear that will go live by the end of the year," Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told lawmakers this week. "We will have to set new rates, but it will be revenue neutral."
The toll rates will have to change, Pollack said, because the gantries that replace toll booths are in different locations than the booths, and may be closer together or further apart. The total toll for traveling from one end of the Turnpike to the other will remain the same. MassDOT has "no intention of actually raising the toll rates," Pollack told the House and Senate Ways and Means committees as legislators begin their work reviewing the $39.55 billion fiscal 2017 budget proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker, a budget proposal which includes a $327.66 million transfer from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund for MassDOT (a 2.2% decrease from the current year) and a total of $1.187 billion for the MBTA, including the same $187 million in contract assistance the state provided this fiscal year.
By the end of this year, drivers will also start to see permanent roadside signs alerting them to current estimated travel times on major roads. Dubbed the “Go Time Project,” the initiative seeks to give drivers the most up-to-date information while also allowing MassDOT the chance to improve its study of traffic patterns.
"It replaces the sort of temporary digital signs that you see that say '3 miles, 45 minutes' on some of our roadways on bad days with a network of permanent signs," Pollack said. "They're not only better because we'll have 700 miles of state roadway by the end of the year, but the permanent signs are better because we can collect and analyze all that information."
A year after the new signs go live, Pollack said, MassDOT will have "more data than literally I think we've ever had" about when and where traffic problems exist, allowing the state to better address problem areas. "We can use that in our planning to make smarter investments to address where our bottlenecks are," she said.