An 18-year political stunt ends

Roberto Scalese / / June 17, 2014

Welcome back to the fold, West Newton.

The area’s enjoyed a politically-motivated free ride at the Mass Pike’s Exit 16 since 1996, when a vote-wooing Bill Weld took a jackhammer to toll booths there and in Western Massachusetts. But the exit is slated to receive overhead tolling equipment along with the rest of the Pike, according to a WBZ I-Team report:

The statewide work will begin this winter and will be completed in July of 2016 and that will include a new toll in the West Newton area of the highway. The new toll would be a minimum of 40 cents.

DePaola says, “Currently we have an untolled movement from Interstate 95 to Exit 17. One of our new tolling locations will be between those two points. So that would be a tolled movement.’’

Riders along this stretch of the Pike may grumble, but the 40-cent charge is a drop in the bucket compared to other Mass Pike, Tobin Bridge and harbor tunnel drivers.

Back in 1996, few people saw the toll closures as anything but a political stunt by Weld, despite all his protests otherwise. Weld was the Republican candidate running against Democratic incumbent John Kerry in a titanic fight for one of the commonwealth’s US Senate seats.

From The Boston Globe’s 1996 coverage of the toll removal:

Weld rejected suggestions that yesterday’s announcement was meant to win votes in his effort to unseat incumbent US Sen. John F. Kerry. “I’ve been saying since 1990 that the turnpike should have no tolls on it,’’ he said. A Kerry campaign spokesman said there would be no comment on Weld’s action.

That race led to one of the great Senatorial debates in Massachusetts history, with the Boston Herald’s Margery Eagan famously asking Kerry why voters “don’t seem that fond of you as a person,’’ and WCVB’s Chet Curtis describing Weld as “aloof’’ and “somewhat bored by the [governor’s] job.’’

Kerry went on to win the election by over 7 percent, lose the 2004 race for President, and ultimately became Secretary of State of the United States.

Weld went on to resign the governorship, have his nomination as US Ambassador to Mexico blown up by North Carolina US Senator Jesse Helms, and ultimately wrote “Mackerel by Moonlight’’ and other novels.