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Automated toll plan in the works for Mass., other tolls not ruled out

Gov. Deval Patrick did not rule out the possibility of tolls on additional roadways in the future as the state struggles with transportation funding.

Automated toll collection is likely just down the road under a new plan being worked out by state leaders.

The plan to upgrade the tolls to an electronic or automated system on all currently tolled roads, bridges and tunnels would result in the reduction of more than 300 toll operator jobs, officials said today.

"We've been looking at it for some time and I think we have a pretty good plan coming together," Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters at Logan Airport today. "And I think it's going to save us some money and above all make the commute and the use of the Pike more convenient."

The Herald reported this morning on the plan to upgrade to electronic toll collection and Patrick and Davey spoke this afternoon about it in more detail to reporters.

When asked about tolls on other roadways, Patrick would not rule out the possibility in the future, but said it's not part of the current toll automation plan.

"It's one of the things we've thought about and indeed that many, many people have thought about. We haven't quite come to close on that," Patrick said of additional toll roads.

When asked further about tolls along the border of the state, Patrick again said that plan has been thought about.

"I've thought about and we have talked about a number of those strategies. There are arguments on all sides of them. We are trying to come to rest on a plan that we phase in over a number of years. We're going to have to wait a few weeks until we talk about all of them," Patrick said.

Patrick is expected to deliver a plan to the Legislature next month that address gaps in public transportation revenues.

Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said there are about 410 current full time and part time toll workers and that up to 80 or 90 percent of them could be eliminated.

"Toll collectors have done nothing wrong, it's just that technology has caught up with them," Davey said.

Messages left for union representatives for the Massachusetts Turnpike employees were not immediately returned.

The plan would cost about $100 million and would pay for itself in about three years, state officials said.

Because toll money can only be used on toll roads, Davey said the project funds would not divert money away from other transit projects.

"We would pay for it with the tolls," Davey said, adding that the state takes in about $300 million a year from the tolls. "We can only use toll revenue for the toll roads so it's not as if we can take toll money and give it to cities and towns. I can't even give it to a regional transit authority. It has to stay on the toll roads, so we would use toll revenue to pay for it."

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