Md. authority plans big toll hike

Several dozen turn out at Baltimore hearing to object

News MDTA, Baltimore Sun June 14, 2011
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Officials of the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) got an earful on Monday night at a public hearing about the agency’s proposal to increase tolls over the next two years, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“It really grinds my gears,” said Mike Beczkowski of Baltimore. “We’re in the middle of an economic recession, and people can’t afford this.”

The MDTA proposal would raise the price of a round trip on most of the MDTA’s facilities to $8 for those paying cash. The first phase of the increase would come in October of this year and the second in July 2013.

The MDTA owns, operates and maintains a total of eight facilities, including the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge (U.S. 40), the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (I-95), the Fort McHenry Tunnel (I-95) and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel (I-895).

“There are two key forces driving this proposal: paying for major construction work needed to keep these large, aging and expensive facilities both safe and operational and paying for additional highway capacity now under construction in the Baltimore and Washington regions,” said MDTA Chairman and Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley in a statement. “The bottom line is that the MDTA’s tunnels, bridges and turnpikes are financially supported through tolls and not the State’s Transportation Trust Fund or General Fund. The additional revenue is needed to meet the current and future needs of these facilities. The plan allows Maryland to offer some of the most generous commuter discounts in the country and keeps overall toll rates comparable with those elsewhere in the region.”

The MDTA’s expenses include $132 million in repairs for the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge; $121 million in work for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway; $225 million in repairs to the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge (U.S. 50/301); and $410 million in work for the three Baltimore Harbor crossings. The proposed toll increase is intended to bring in $77 million in additional revenue in 2012, $119 million in 2013 and $132 million in 2014.

Swaim-Staley said the overall size of the toll increase could not be changed but the details of E-ZPass and cash tolls for different classes of vehicles on the agency’s various bridges and tunnels might be altered in response to public comments.

The hearing Monday night was the second of nine planned by the MDTA around the state.

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