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BOSTON-As the reality of the rising costs of the Big Dig, the massive highway construction project in the heart of the city here, begins to sink in, state legislators are trying to come up with ways to pay for the project. Toll hikes and tax increases on gas–once considered off-limits–are being considered as the costs of the project balloon to $14.475 billion.

Representative Joseph P. Sullivan, co-chairman of the legislature’s transportation committee, did not return calls by press time, but he reportedly called for a look at the possibility of a gas tax increase and restructuring the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority’s toll to pay for the cost overruns.

The Turnpike Authority has already raised the issue of increasing tolls starting in January but Sullivan would like to see the tolls restructured with discount programs. Other suggestions include raising the fees during peak periods and charging for use of the Central Artery. At recent public hearings on toll hikes, the public opposition was clear, but the recognition that the Authority does not have many other options is also increasingly evident. Recent estimates have raised the cost of the project by $100 million.

A gas tax, which was reportedly approved by Richard Dimino, president of the Artery Business Committee, of one cent per gallon could raise approximately $30 million a year. Because of the recent reduction in gas prices, legislators reportedly feel that now could be the right time to raise the gas tax.

The Turnpike Authority is paying about $2 billion of the total cost of the project. The Federal Government originally planned to cover about 85% of Big Dig costs, but last year that figure was capped at $8.5 billion. In the current financial plan for the project, Turnpike Authority toll payers are scheduled to cover 8.7% of Big Dig costs. The Authority has other sources of cash, such as land sales, which would bring its share of the costs to 12.5%. The state is paying for 22.3% of the project, in the form of taxes or fees but has made it clear that it will not pay for any more of the project’s costs.

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