The Massachusetts Department of Transportation on Thursday announced that the creepy Mass Pike All Electronic Tolling project — those 16 camera-laden gantries above the highway — is a finalist in a national transportation competition. The statement they sent out asks people to go online and vote for the Massachusetts project so the state will receive $10,000 toward a transportation charity of their choosing and a nice slap on the back. We at the Advocate love us some charity, but let’s let someone else pick it. We present to you …
THE TOP 5 REASONS TO HATE THE MASS PIKE ALL-ELECTRONIC TOLLS
There were 400 part- and full-time toll booth operators affected by electronic tolling. People were put out of work, and the state may not have even saved money on the deal. The Boston Herald reports that the retirement packages the state was compelled to give to the most senior 117 topped $10 million. Meanwhile, the least senior 200 toll booth workers were not eligible for normal retirement, according to MassLive.
2) Tolls needlessly doubled for those who did not sign up for the E-ZPass program.
One way from Interstates 91 to 95 along 90 now costs nearly $6 if you don’t have an E-ZPass. The same trip cost less than $3 before all electronic tolling. Is the program mandatory? No, but it may as well be. And those uncomfortable with putting a transponder in their cars don’t have a good alternative. Those in Western Massachusetts are particularly affected by this, as a trip to Boston necessitates using almost the entire Pike, and the largest toll.
3) Cameras with license-plate reading software now monitor every car that drives along the Pike and that data is stored with the state.
The cameras record license plate info for all cars passing beneath them and state officials can use the system’s “hotlist,” allowing real-time and historical tracking of license plates and E-ZPass transponders as they move beneath the gantries. This allows for the warrant-less surveillance of targeted vehicles, which the state says it uses in public safety emergencies. Meanwhile, all data is collected and stored, so you are being watched along with any potential criminal.
4) Thanks to analysis by MassLive, we know that the data from those cameras has already been misused by government consultants.
Emails showed that a member of TTI Consulting went through a month worth of data without authorization from the state while looking for a murder suspect that was subsequently not found to have traveled along the Pike during the time period in question (one night). A technology expert at ACLU Massachusetts called the finding “really troubling,” especially considering it goes against the MassDOT regulations that limit the use of the hotlist to situations that involve imminent danger.
5) Massachusetts residents did not get a chance to vote on the project.
Instead the project was discussed at the MassDOT level in 2010, pushed by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2012, and MassDOT awarded the contract to start building in 2014. Never were Massachusetts voters given the opportunity to give their approval or disapproval beyond a few hearings that took place in urban areas.
BONUS) Gantries is a dumb word.
Seriously, who came up with gantries?
Weren’t we going to tax millionaires and get more money for transportation or something? If those things ever come down, the Advocate will be hosting a raucous watch party.