Editorial: Board members missing from Pike hearings

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

State law authorizes the Mass. Turnpike Authority Board to set tolls on the Pike but recognizes the board's responsibility is to the public. So the law requires the TPA hold public hearings before taking final action. That's why, after giving preliminary approval to toll hikes to take effect next January, hearings were scheduled in East Boston, Newton and Framingham.

But unlike previous toll hearings, these have been presided over not by the TPA board, but by staff. At the first of two Framingham hearings, inconveniently scheduled on a Friday night, just one of five board members, Mary Z. Connaughton of Framingham, was even in the room.

Pike staff listened patiently to those who wished to speak, and all remarks were transcribed. Board members say they read all the testimony. But reading testimony doesn't have the same impact as hearing it in person, and board members, not staff, are the policy-makers who should be listening to the people their policies affect.

It hasn't always been like this. The last time Pike tolls were increased, board members were at the table in front at a public hearing in Framingham, not staff. They heard the people's testimony and responded with several measures, including the FastLane discount program, that softened the blow for MetroWest.

Pike board members may not be household names. But Chairman Bernard Cohen, Judy Pagliuca, Michael Angelini, Thomas Stephens and Connaughton were appointed by the governor to manage a public agency in the public's interest. For them to refuse to listen to the public's views reeks of the arrogance that has been the unfortunate hallmark of the Turnpike Authority since long before they came on board.

The Pike board holds its final public hearing on proposed toll increases from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 22, at Nevins Hall in Framingham's Memorial Building. We hope Pike toll-payers will be out in force to testify. More than that, we hope Pike board members will be there to listen.