Maryland Senate approves bill to aid input on toll hikes

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/11/2012

A bill on its way to the governor’s desk is intended to help ensure that truckers and other travelers in Maryland get more input on future toll rate hikes.

During the fall, the Maryland Transportation Authority implemented toll increases for the first time in more than 20 years for passenger vehicles. Truck drivers did not escape rate hikes either. For the fourth time in about a decade, higher fees for trucks took effect Jan. 1.

Truck tolls rose from $12 to $18 at the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels. Tolls on Interstate 95 between Baltimore and the Delaware state line increased from $30 to $36. The fee for trucks to travel on the Harry Nice Memorial and Bay bridges went from $15 to $24.

The perceived fleecing of road users doesn’t end there. Another round of hikes is planned for July 2013.

State officials cite debt costs for new construction for the rate increases. They say the new revenue allows them to pay for repairs on the affected bridges and tunnels while paying off debt incurred.

In the aftermath of the rate hikes, House lawmakers voted unanimously to send to Gov. Martin O’Malley a bill that is intended to make it more difficult for toll increases to get pushed through. The Senate already approved it by unanimous consent.

If signed into law, opportunities for public comment would be required on proposed increases.

“What this bill does is clarify the procedures the MDTA must undertake before implementing a toll, fee or other charge increase,” Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore, recently told members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Specifically, the bill – SB820 – would mandate a 10-day warning to the public before any MTA discussion to increase tolls, fees or other charges. Additional time for public comment would be required after the final meeting.

The public would also get a 10-day notice before any authority vote to increase tolls, fees or other charges. Also, an opportunity for public comment would be required at the meeting when a vote is expected.

Truckers, including OOIDA, have said the latest round of toll increases is ill-advised in the current economic situation. They also warn that many trucking operations, particularly owner-operators, will not be able to absorb the increases.

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