Toll revenue across the state highway system declined by roughly 33.4% during the coronavirus pandemic compared to the first eight months of 2019, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
For the first eight months of 2019 across all tolls, MassDOT brought in roughly $245 million in revenue. Toll revenue during the first eight months of 2020 — a period of time that has coincided with a sharp downturn in the economy, national and state travel restrictions and several shelter-in-place orders that have hindered travel and reduced traffic levels to unprecedented lows during the COVID-19 pandemic — is down approximately $80 million, to $163 million as of August, according to MassDOT data.
The decline in toll revenue could deter sorely needed investment in Massachusetts roadways and infrastructure projects. The top five toll-funded projects for fiscal 2020 included repairs and related work to the Tobin Bridge, fireproofing and repairs to highway system tunnels in Boston, and road work and maintenance on I-90 spanning a host of towns, including Westfield, West Springfield, Brimfield, Blandford and Russell.
The fiscal outlook for the state transportation agency during the pandemic remains largely uncertain, if worrisome, particularly for the MBTA, which has seen declines in ridership of up 95% compared to normal levels. At the end of August, T officials revealed potential losses of at least $308 million, even if ridership returns to 80% by September 2021, which it calls “the new normal.”
But some lawmakers and transportation advocates have argued that the economic cost of the pandemic could help to spur transformational thinking about the state’s transit infrastructure, urging officials to make New Deal-type investments that also create jobs.
“This would be a very good time to make the kind of investment, and the size of investment, that we haven’t been able to find the political will to do,” Katherine Clark told GBH at the height of the public health crisis. “But now we can really achieve not only great things for our infrastructure but we can also do it in a way that can help create jobs.”
MBTA officials are planning system-wise service cuts of up to $225 million, they said on Monday. Pandemic-related impacts have also compounded problems with the delivery of the new Red and Orange line fleets. The Orange Line fleet is now projected to be 15 months late, arriving in April 2023, while the Red Line set is running a year late and is expected to be done in September 2024.
Original story here.