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Maryland toll increases get preliminary approval

The Maryland Transportation Authority board gave preliminary approval Thursday to sweeping statewide toll increases that would more than triple the cost of some bridge crossings.

The plan would even out toll rates across the state, give E-Zpass users a 10 percent discount and raise rates for commuters and truckers. Most rate hikes would come in two phases on Oct. 1 this year and in July 2013.

The funds would be used to cover mounting maintenance costs on the state’s toll bridges, tunnels and highways and pay down billions in bond payments for projects now under construction.

“These investments have to be paid for, so frankly, we have no choice,” Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said.

The transportation authority expects to raise $77 million more in the coming fiscal year, $119 million the year after, and $251 million in fiscal 2014, when the toll hikes would be fully implemented.

The plan, passed on a unanimous voice vote by the authority board, is expected to be finalized in the late summer after a two-month public comment period and a series of nine public meetings across the state.

The proposed toll increases have already drawn strong criticism.

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, the Republican minority whip from the Upper Shore, called it “completely out of touch with the struggles of working families today, who are dealing with rising gas prices and now are faced with 300 percent toll increases.”

The top Senate Republican, Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil and Harford, is organizing grassroots opposition to toll hikes in the northeast corner of the state through Facebook.

There, the Interstate 95 toll in Perryville and the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge on Route 40 would climb from $5 to $6, then $8 for cars and passenger vehicles with two axles.

The William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge over the Chesapeake Bay, where the toll has been $2.50 since 1975, would rise to $5, then $8.

The cost of Baltimore harbor crossings, which are collected in both directions at the Francis Scott Key Bridge, Fort McHenry Tunnel and Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, would rise from $2 to $3 in October and to $4 in 2013.

The state last raised passenger vehicle tolls on the Baltimore harbor crossings, I-95 and the Hatem bridge in 2003.

Commuter rates would rise to the equivalent of $2.80 for a round trip at all toll locations.

Trucking companies are already worried by the proposal, said Louis Campion, president and CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association Inc.

The transportation authority agreed in its proposal to delay the first toll hikes for trucks and vehicles with three or more axles until January, but the plan would also lower discounts for frequent commercial toll users.

Truck tolls would top out at $60 for a round trip. The highest is now $38 on I-95.

“That’s going to have a rather devastating impact,” Campion said.

But authority board members said the pain of maintaining the aging infrastructure and expanding the system will have to be passed on to the drivers who use them.

Nearly half of the Inter-County Connector’s $2.6 billion cost falls on the authority, which will cover its $1.23 billion in bonds with future toll revenues.

The authority slashed the Baltimore toll lanes project a year ago, reducing the length of the express lanes and number of interchanges to cut $500 million from the $1.4 billion price tag. The eight-mile express lanes from White Marsh Boulevard to Interstate 895 are expected to open in 2014.

“Suddenly, the bill has come due, and the bill is something like $2.7 billion in bonds that we’re legally obligated to pay debt service on,” said authority member Richard C. Mike Lewin.

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4 comments

  1. the million a day is not good enought i guest someone in the front office needs a raise i should quit my job and work for the city

  2. There’s no reason to grant such significant discounts to long distance commuters. If people want to make a daily commute across the Bay bridges or harbor tunnels, rather than live closer to work, that’s their choice, but the rest of us should not subsidize the cost of the infrastructure required to support those choices.

  3. What a joke. First they raid the fund to pay for other pet projects and now they are planning to increase the tolls to make up for it. My suggestion is to REMOVE the Transportation Authority. How about we spread the pain. Lets put a toll up in Western Maryland as you enter the state. How about only the people who voted for the current Governor pay the increased toll amount. We can not keep raising taxes, Give in state college tution for non US residents and expect us to keep taking it. It is time for a change, Miller out, Bush Out, Hopefully the gov moves onto to DC

  4. This absurd! I live near and travel across the Harry Nice bridge in Southern MD-one lane each way. Arguably the worst in the state. Summer backups coming from VA back to MD can last for more than an hour and we get to pay $3 for that wait. This toll bridge would be included in the increase and would go to $4 this summer then $5 next summer. And the kicker is they say this additional revenue would go to projects/road construction up North. …We have been fighting to get a new bridge built for years and the state is not doing a thing for us down here.