Maryland braces for toll increases

| 5/16/2011

Highway users are bracing for what could amount to substantial toll increases in Maryland. The numbers aren’t final yet, but no matter what the increases turn out to be, truckers operating on already thin profit margins are not in favor of another squeeze.

The Maryland Transportation Authority’s board of directors is scheduled to meet June 2 in Baltimore to develop a formal proposal to increase tolls. Recent committee meetings show the direction they could be headed.

Early projections are that the current $15 toll on the Bay Bridge, also called the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge on U.S. 50/301, could double to $30 for a five-axle truck.

The Authority’s communications director, Cheryl Sparks, says the numbers are subject to change and that the Authority plans to seek public opinion once the proposal is narrowed down.

Sparks provided some examples to Land Line about what is being discussed.

In addition to the Bay Bridge toll, she said tolls on the 48-mile John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (part of I-95) could be increased from the current $30 for five axles to $36 in October of this year and then to $48 in July of 2013. That’s a possible 60 percent increase for trucks.

Four-wheelers that currently pay $2.50 on the Bay Bridge could pay $5 in October and up to $8 in 2013.

Truckers faced steep toll increases in 2009, which were masked as “revenue recovery” following a report that said truckers weren’t paying their fair share.

Maryland Motor Truck Association President Louis Campion says truckers have strong memories and opinions on that because four-wheelers were exempt from that round of increases. If the next increase is as steep as it could be, trucking will feel it again, he said.

“If this increase happens, it will be dramatic on both the fleets and independents, without a doubt,” Campion said Monday.

The Authority will use the extra revenue to carry out its system preservation and inspection programs as well as pay for two mega projects currently under construction, Sparks said. Those mega projects are the Intercounty Connector, which is a toll road being built in segments, and the construction of express toll lanes on I-95. Sparks says the Authority needs between $70 million and $80 million to carry out those programs and complete the projects.

The Maryland Transportation Authority next meeting is 10 a.m., June 2, at the Point Breeze Office Complex, 2010 Broening Highway, Suite 160, Baltimore, MD 21224.

The agency is encouraging comments.

“Public comment is very important, and historically we have listened to the public and there have been tweaks made,” Sparks said. “The need for the toll increase won’t change, but there could be tweaks in the different features of what we do in the toll increase.”

The Maryland Transportation Authority operates the Bay Bridge, JFK Memorial Highway, Fort McHenry Tunnel, Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Francis Scott Key Bridge, Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge and the new Intercounty Connector.

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