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Massachusetts Department Of Transportation Highway Division - A Look Into 2016

December 14, 2015 01:00 PM
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Speaker: Thomas J. Tinlin, MassDOT Highway Administrator

By: Amanda Lucier, CDW Consultants, Inc.

On November 17, 2015, Thomas Tinlin, MassDOT Highway Administrator, shared his vision for the future of MassDOT’s Highway Division.  Administrator Tinlin also identified the top three challenges for MassDOT - urban congestion, state of good repair, and funding.

Before coming to MassDOT, Tinlin served as Commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department (BTD).  In that role, he directed and implemented numerous high-profile transportation plans for the City of Boston including the Democratic National Convention, World Series, and the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup parade.  Tinlin represents MassDOT on a number of American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) sub-committees and is also a member of the Massachusetts Area Planning Council.

Administrator Tinlin was appointed as the Highway Administrator of MassDOT on September 9, 2015. Previously he served as the Acting Highway Administrator.  The position of the Administrator falls under the direction of the Governor and the Secretary/CEO of Transportation and involves determining, directing and implementation of transportation policies for the MassDOT Highway Division.  As Administrator, Tinlin oversees more than 3,000 employees and directs a multi-billion dollar budget.

With poise and a sense of humor, Tinlin started his speech with a question, “Who here is in favor of tolling?” With a quick scan of the room, he realized that less than half of the room raised their hand. To expound upon his question, he explained that the existing tolling system in Massachusetts is outdated and has proven to be unsafe. To emphasize this point, he shared some worst-case scenario photos of the difficulties that toll booth plazas pose for some including two cars stuck in one toll lane together. The success of the All-Electronic Tolling (AET) located on the Tobin Bridge has kick-started the effort to outfit the remaining toll booths with newer, safer alternatives. The AET system will allow patrons who do not wish to obtain an E-Z Pass transponder to receive their toll bill by mail. Tinlin reassured the crowd that the transponders will only be used for tolling purposes, not to track a person’s each and every move. The AET system is a tool that will reduce congestion at the existing toll booths as vehicles will no longer need to stop and pay, reducing idle time of vehicles. An additional benefit that the AET technology offers is lower operations and maintenance costs. The AET system will go live statewide in October 2016.

For attendees who did not raise their hands to Administrator Tinlin’s first question, he approached the benefits of tolling from a different angle. The revenue that is generated through the collection of tolls across Massachusetts is guaranteed to be allocated for the maintenance and repair of the road work within the Commonwealth. The existing budget that MassDOT Highway has to work with does not leave much revenue to be utilized for road maintenance and repairs.  Therefore, the toll revenue is another way to fund the necessary road work. Consequently, if the tolls were completely removed, slowly all of the major and minor roadways would begin to deteriorate and cause additional harm to patrons on the roadways. The audience began nodding their heads in agreement with his explanation of how money collected from tolls trickles its way down to local roadways and increases transportation safety.

The Accelerated Bridge Program - a 6-year $3B fund to repair and improve structurally deficient bridges across the state is a program Tinlin is excited about. Although the program will end in 2016, the advancements and achievements in the repair of the structurally deficient bridges across Massachusetts is worth celebrating. Administrator Tinlin reported that as of September 1, 2015, the Accelerated Bridge Program has completed 170 bridge projects with an additional 23 in construction and 5 more to begin work next year. This 8-year program will culminate with approximately 270 bridges repaired across the state. An additional benefit to this program is the number of jobs this roadwork created - as of September 1, 2015, a total of 33,204 construction jobs were created or sustained across Massachusetts.

It is clear that Mr. Tinlin has a desire to improve highway transportation throughout the Commonwealth, and anticipates MassDOT’s plan to counteract the 21st Century challenges with 21st Century solutions. His sense of humor and open dialog approach engaged the room and made for a great discussion.

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