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Editorial: Pike tolls

In the drive to find more revenue for transportation, tolls will be returning to the western section of the Massachusetts Turnpike.

It’s the passing of an era of sorts, especially for those who confined their turnpike travel between West Stockbridge near the border with New York and the interchange with Interstate 291 in Springfield in an effort to avoid charges.

Since 1996, when then-Gov. William Weld decided to eliminate the tolls at six interchanges in western Mass., drivers who stayed away from the central and eastern portions of the pike got away toll-free.

During that time, however, there was a constant threat that tolls would be reinstituted, especially when the highway project known as the Big Dig in Boston turned into an enormous drain on state finances. Despite all the threats and machinations, though, our end of the Turnpike continued to get a free pass ... until this year, when restoring the tolls became part of the package for financing the transportation, one that required some $500 million in new revenue. The tolls are expected to bring in some $12 million annually.

What we don’t quite get is this: although reinstating the tolls is a done deal, and it was a requirement in the funding bill, the state is planning to have two public hearings — one at Lee High School and the other at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield — before the tolls go into effect on Oct. 15.

What’s the point? They can’t be looking to gauge public opinion on the matter — that’s something you generally do before lawmakers make a decision. Perhaps these hearings are expected to be a bit more of a sales job by the state, one where the public is told that the money is needed, etc.

And we’re sure that the part of the feel-good aspect of this will be that the reinstituted tolls will cost the same as they did in 1996.

Be thankful for small favors, since the free ride is over.

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