|Thursday, September 22, 2011 – Robert Lang|
|The Maryland Transportation Authority has approved a plan to increase tolls on bridges, tunnels and roads.
It was passed by a unanimous vote of the panel.
Maryland Secretary of Transportation Beverly Swaim-Staley, who chairs the Authority, said the state has some of the lowest tolls in the nation, but the toll hikes were needed to meet “current financial obligations.”
She says the toll hikes will generate $225-million to pay for current improvements to various Authority controlled facilities including paying for a new deck of the Bay Bridge.
She says the decision to raise tolls was “difficult.”
After a series of public hearings this summer, the authority revised much of the plan.
The first phase of the toll hikes which were once expected to take effect October 1, will now take effect November 1.
Tolls on the Bay Bridge and the Nice Bridge will increase from $2.50 to $4 on November 1. The tolls will then increase to $6 in July, 2013. The original proposal had the tolls increasing to $5 this year, and $8 in 2013.
Tolls on I-95 at the Harford-Cecil County line as well as the Hatem Bridge will increase from $5 to $6 on November 1, and to $8 in July, 2013
Tolls at the Key Bridge, Harbor Tunnel and Fort McHenry Tunnel will increase from $2 to $3 on November 1, and to $4 in July, 2013.
The most vocal criticism came from residents of Harford and Cecil Counties who did not like the proposal to eliminate a decal system that allows them to cross the Hatem Bridge at a reduce rate.
The Authority wanted to have those drivers replace the decals with an E-Z Pass transponder.
Under the revised proposal, the decal system is eliminated on September 30, 2012, and a new E-Z Pass system is set up for the Hatem Bridge only. Unlike other E-Z Pass accounts, this one would have no monthly fee or pre-paid tolls required.
Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, who represents Harford and Cecil County, says she is grateful the Authority listened to many residents of the area who complained about the original plan. However, she told WBAL News the toll hikes were “still a burden.”
Senate Minority Whip E.J. Pipkin, a Republican who represents the Upper Eastern Shore called the toll hikes “shameful.” He says even the revised Bay Bridge toll hike will hurt the economy.
The commuter tolls for the Bay Bridge and other crossings have changed since the original plan was unveiled in June. The proposed commuter tolls for the Bay Bridge and Nice Bridge is $1. The Authority originally had proposed a $1.50 toll for 25 monthly trips. Commuter tolls for other facilities would be 75-cents for 50 monthly trips. The original proposal was 90-cents.
Authority member Mike Lewin said that the proposal should have done more to help commuters, but he did vote for the plan.
Baltimore County Democratic Delegate John Olszewski, who represents Dundalk, said the toll hikes would be a burden to commuters using the tunnels and the Key Bridge. He noted the proposed toll hike for those crossing were not revised, even though man y residents showed up at hearings this summer to complain about them.
Swaim-Staley and other Authority members said they listened to public complaints, and revised the plan.