I-Team: Where our toll money is spent

Is our toll money being spent on local roads?

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP)  – MassDOT reinstated tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike in western Massachusetts for about eight months. The 22News I-Team discovered how much money they made and where that money was spent.

It’s our money, but is it being spent here as the state promised?  You may be surprised to hear how far the money actually stretches.

You may remember MassDOT reinstating tolls along the MassPike in western Massachusetts in October to raise revenue for local road projects. But a 22News I-Team Investigation into the money trail found many drivers chose to take a detour instead.

“My check was basically for gas and the highway to pay the tolls to get there so I had to find a job local which is over at 7/11 and it’s better now that I’m not traveling on the MassPike”, said Chicopee’s Leslie Headlee.

Based on records we got from the state we actually found there’s been fewer cars going through the tolls since they were reinstated. But in that short amount of time, the state still made a lot more money.

We discovered from October 2013 through May of this year compared to the same time period the year before, the state collected $6.7 million more just from exits one through six in western Massachusetts. Since we were told this new money would be spent locally, the 22News I-Team went to MassDOT headquarters to find out if they are.

“That additional income has allowed us to increase the amount of work we do on the roads,” said MassDOT Highway Administrator Frank DePaola.

The road projects are supposed to be in the western part of the state.  When most of us think of that, we think of exit 1 in the Berkshires to exit 8 in Palmer, but the state’s definition of “western” actually extends all the way out to exit 14 in Weston, 66 miles past Palmer.

“However, most of the added work is in that area from Exit 7 out to the New York border because that probably needed from a repair perspective the most investment,” said DePaola.

DePaola said specifically the money is going toward paving near I-84, guardrails in Westfield to the New York state line and drainage projects in the Berkshires.   Although one driver in Chicopee hopes a piece of it comes close to her home.

“I hope they use the money to fix the roads, there’s a lot of potholes still and that has to be fixed,” said Chicopee’s Madelyn Vazquez.

But this way of collecting money on the Pike is only temporary. In 2016, the state plans to get rid of tolls booths entirely and add overhead structures to collect money electronically along the Pike.

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