The House chairman of the Legislature’s transportation committee is looking to use a cut of Logan Airport parking revenue to help pay for upkeep of the Boston Harbor tunnels.
Representative William Straus said he is talking with the Baker administration about diverting a portion of revenue that Massport receives from its Logan Airport parking into a new fund established for maintaining the Callahan, Sumner, and Ted Williams tunnels.
“We’re always talking about how to take care of infrastructure,” Straus said. “I see it with the T every day. I don’t want to see these prized assets end up where we are with the T in terms of such a daunting backlog.”
The impetus: the Massachusetts Port Authority is working with state regulators to obtain permits to add 5,000 parking spaces at the airport, spread among two garage projects. Straus said he would prefer that Massport agree to the tunnel charge as part of those discussions; he doesn’t think legislation is necessary.
The Mattapoisett Democrat said he isn’t worried about an emergency situation in any of the tunnels, but wants to establish a new funding stream to free up some of the money for other uses.
“That’s the perfect mechanism for dealing with the impacts of the increasing automobile and truck traffic coming to Logan,” Straus said. “If they’re asking for more parking, my argument is that Massport has to include in that plan recognition that there is a use burden . . . that they’re creating.”
The Ted Williams tunnel, in particular, has proven crucial to Logan’s rapid growth in new airlines during the past two decades. Straus estimates that roughly half of the traffic through the Williams is related to Logan.
Straus said he’s flexible about how much would be charged, but suggested a dollar per car, to start. The charge would be taken out of Massport’s revenue, he said, and not treated as a surcharge on top of the cost that’s visible to customers. That said, Straus recognizes that Massport could simply raise its parking fees commensurately to cover the added cost.
Straus’s proposal is already facing skepticism at Massport. Officials at the port authority say this concept would likely be dismissed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which imposes strict limits on how airport revenue can be used.
“The idea we would just subsidize the Sumner, Callahan, and Ted Williams, I don’t think that would pass FAA approval,” Massport chief executive Thomas Glynn said.
Straus said he doesn’t expect problems with the federal agency because such a large number of drivers in the harbor tunnels are going to Logan or leaving the airport.
“This isn’t just viewing them as the rich uncle you get money from,” Straus said. “This is a lifeline for the airport.”
A spokeswoman for the FAA declined to comment.
Governor Charlie Baker’s Department of Transportation, which would likely need to play a critical role in these discussions, would say only that the department always welcomes suggestions from legislators.
Straus said the state spends more than $110 million a year for repair and maintenance of all four major highway tunnels in Boston, including the O’Neill Tunnel, which takes Interstate 93 under the downtown area. The Department of Transportation was unable to provide a separate figure for the three harbor tunnels; all three have tolls.
But it’s unlikely that a parking charge could cover the entire cost.
Massport says it generated about $140 million from Logan passenger parking in the 2016 fiscal year, and about 2.6 million vehicles used Logan parking that year. Massport officials said it’s too early to say how Straus’ proposal would affect Massport operations.
At $35 a day, parking at Logan Airport’s central garage isn’t cheap. And the garage still frequently fills up — a big reason why Massport is trying to add spaces to the more than 18,600 it already has at Logan.
Other changes could be on the way to Massport’s approach to charging for parking. Conservation Law Foundation vice president Rafael Mares said Massport has agreed to study whether raising parking prices at peak times could spur more travelers to choose mass transit options to and from the airport. The port authority also agreed to study whether charging drivers for entering the airport area to drop off or pick up passengers could have the same effect.
Massport agreed to both options as part of a broader agreement with the environmental group to gain support for its quest to add 5,000 spaces. If Massport decides to move ahead with either of the changes, Mares said, they wouldn’t take effect for several years, when the first parking expansion opens at Logan.