Massachusetts Supreme Court upholds expansionary view of state toll financing - toll subsidies for free roads OK'd

July 18, 2012

The Massachusetts Supreme Court has given the expansionary interpretation of state toll powers - namely that toll revenues can legitimately be used on facilities away from where they were collected. Boston 'celebrity lawyer' Jan Schlichtmann sued the state Turnpike saying it had unlawfully takes toll revenues from the Turnpike proper and used them to finance the untolled Big Dig or Central Artery Tunnel.

He argued that when toll revenues are spent outside the toll road on which they are collected they become a tax which is beyond the power of the Turnpike Authority.

Virginia has similar issues being litigated with the the proposed tollroad off I-95 in Fredericksburg VA and on the Hampton Roads Norfolk tunnels under the James River estuary. These plaintiffs posit a constrained view that tolls can only legitimately be used for the support of the facility tolled, none other.

But in Boston the state supreme court unanimously rejected the constrained view.

Writing for the court Judge Ralph Gants: "Where, as here, a public authority manages an integrated system of roadways, bridges, and tunnels, and chooses to impose tolls on only some of the roadways and tunnels in an amount sufficient to support the entire integrated system, its purpose does not shift from expense reimbursement to revenue raising simply because the toll revenues exceed the cost of maintaining only the tolled portions of the integrated system."

"Nor must every road, bridge, and tunnel in an integrated system of roadway, bridges, and tunnels be tolled to enable the tolls collected to support the expenses of the entire integrated system without being deemed taxes."

But that won't resolve it.

Schlichtmann says he'll now ask the US Supreme Court to consider the matter.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-07-18

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