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Maryland tolls expected to rise this year

ANNAPOLIS — Drivers will pay more to use some of Maryland’s roads, tunnels and bridges starting in the second half of this year, state transportation officials said.

“We will very, very likely have a toll increase this year,” Harold M. Bartlett, acting executive secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, told a group of lawmakers Wednesday.

Bartlett said the authority hasn’t determined how much its eight tolls will increase. The most recent estimate, he said, would bump tolls up by an average 75 cents, though the increase could vary across locations and be mitigated by the authority’s cost-cutting in other areas.

The authority expects to raise about $314 million in toll revenue this year, according to a legislative budget analysis. The money is used to maintain Interstate 95, the Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels, the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge over the Chesapeake Bay and other key transportation infrastructure around the state.

Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said the increase is necessary to keep up with the authority’s maintenance costs and cover the debt service on the InterCounty Connector and express toll lanes on I-95 through Baltimore.

The ICC carries a price tag of $2.6 billion, paid for with a combination of state and federal financing. The first leg, from Interstate 270 to Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County, is slated to open this month. The rest of the 17-mile road, which continues on past I-95 in Laurel, is expected to open this year.

Tolls there will range from 10 cents per mile during the late night and early morning hours to 25 cents per mile during rush hour.

The authority slashed the Baltimore toll lanes project a year ago, reducing the length of the express lanes and interchanges, and bringing the cost of the project down from $1.4 billion to $900 million. The eight-mile express lanes from White Marsh Boulevard to Interstate 895 are expected to open in 2014.

Bartlett said the decision to scale back the project was made so the authority would have more money to use on upkeep of its existing roads.

“Many of our facilities are 50 years old,” he said. “They need to be kept up to date.”

Transportation infrastructure will be a recurring topic throughout the 2011 General Assembly session. Powerful lawmakers, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., have called for an increase to the state’s gasoline tax.