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State Considers Discount Tolls During Off-Peak Hours

BOSTON (CBS) - If you are a Mass Pike commuter, then you know the feeling. The roll in and out of Boston seems to get slower every day. "From Blackstone, Mass to Boston today, it took two-and-a-half hours," said Gordon Williams, stopping for an ice cream break at the Framingham service area. He hopes the state's latest attempt at a remedy works.

The budget now awaiting Governor Baker's signature includes a pilot program starting this spring on an experimental basis. "Essentially it would require that MassDOT provide at least a 25 percent discount to tolling for off-peak periods," explained Chris Dempsey, whose group Transportation for Massachusetts came up with the proposal.

The group sponsored billboards last spring with catchy phrases like, "If Paul Revere had to sit in this traffic, we'd still have a king." He says details like which hours are considered off-peak, would be up to transportation officials.

Critics call the program unfair to rush hour commuters who have no choice. "If I have to be there by nine, and I'm not the only one, we're all going at nine o'clock, so that's the problem," said Sara Friedman from Longmeadow.

Others worry about how Massachusetts would make up for the lost revenue. "I just worry about discounts for some people, then raising the cost for someone else," said Katie Nehmer, who lives in Boston.

WBZ's I-Team first reported on the concept nearly two years ago with the rollout of electronic tolling. The fine print in the state's contract allows for so-called "congestion pricing." Back then, transportation officials said it was not something they would consider.

But backers of this new experiment say if it works, everyone wins. "If we're successful in pulling some cars off the road in that rush hour period, then you get a better commute. You get a faster trip," said Dempsey.

That's what commuters like Noorelle Varoqua are rooting for. "If it can help ease up traffic, I think everyone would be for that."

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