Md. toll reductions subject of hastily scheduled meeting

Daily Record Business Writer//May 5, 2015

Md. toll reductions subject of hastily scheduled meeting

By Bryan P. Sears

//Daily Record Business Writer

//May 5, 2015

State transportation officials are expected to take up proposed reductions of tolls at a hastily scheduled public meeting Thursday morning.

Details of the proposal are being kept secret. A notice posted on the Maryland Transportation Authority website Tuesday announced the meeting, scheduled for 8 a.m. at a facility adjacent to the Bay Bridge. An agenda posted online offers no details beyond a statement that the authority, headed by Transportation Sec. Pete K. Rahn, will discuss and “approve”  a proposal to reduce toll rates and fees.

Gov. Larry Hogan, prior to being sworn in, told reporters he planned to take up a review of tolls and institute a possible reduction sometime after the 90-day General Assembly session ended.

The proposed reductions could provide Hogan with a way to say he has fulfilled his promise to reduce taxes while avoiding legislative approval of the measure.

Erin Montgomery, a Hogan spokeswoman, referred a reporter to the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Rahn was not immediately available.

Cheryl M. Sparks, a spokeswoman for the authority, declined to provide details.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss the details until the full proposal is presented to the board,” Sparks said.

Sparks pointed to a posted agenda, which indicates approval of proposed toll and fee reductions will be taken up by the board chaired by Rahn.

Typically the authority board meets at a facility on Broening Highway in Baltimore. Sparks said the board has met at other sites, including the facility near the Bay Bridge, but could not recall

the last time it happened. She did not explain why the Bay Bridge location was selected over others.

Maryland toll roads and bridges accounted for more than $454.8 million in toll revenue, according to the most recent report covering the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. Of those, three facilities — the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, Fort McHenry and Harbor Tunnels — account for nearly 70 percent of all toll revenue.

Toll revenue is then used to pay for maintenance, ongoing expenses and future needs of the toll roads and bridges.

No details were immediately available regarding the potential size of a toll reduction or what projects could be delayed as a result of the reduced revenue, including a proposal to replace the Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge.

The 74-year-old two-lane bridge spans the Potomac River along Rt. 301 in southern Charles County to King County, Virginia. Currently, the bridge handles about 18,000 vehicles daily. Traffic is expected to more than double by 2030.

The proposed replacement includes four lanes for traffic as well as designated paths for bicyclists and pedestrians. The bridge is slated to be built parallel to the current span. Cost of the replacement is projected to approach $1 billion.

Planning for the bridge project began in 2012. Gov. Martin J. O’Malley earmarked $50 million for design and right of way acquisition in 2013.

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