- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2011

Maryland officials on Thursday approved toll increases at seven of the state’s eight toll facilities, despite complaints from residents and some lawmakers.

The nine-member Maryland Transportation Authority board voted to approve the increases, which are expected to generate $90 million in revenue in their first year to help pay for maintenance of aging facilities and highway improvements.

The agency supervises the state’s toll facilities and is funded entirely by facility revenues. It is funded separately from the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The approved increases, which will double tolls at some facilities over the next two years, are in some cases slightly less than those initially proposed earlier this year. Authority officials last week revised some rate increases after public outcry this summer.

“Toll increases are needed, but I am pleased that we were able to make some adjustments to the plan, while securing the revenue needed to meet our fiscal and legal obligations,” said agency board chairman and state Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley.

The hikes include a more-than-double increase of the standard cash rate for cars and light trucks crossing the Bay Bridge, from the $2.50 toll to $4 starting Nov. 1, and $6 in July 2013.

Bay Bridge E-ZPass users who now pay $2.50 will have to pay $3.60 on Nov. 1 and $5.40 in 2013. The bridge’s commuter rate — $1 since 1983 — will increase to $2.10 in 2013.

Standard cash tolls for the Baltimore area’s Francis Scott Key Bridge and Baltimore Harbor and Fort McHenry tunnels will increase from $2 to $3 on Nov. 1, and to $4 in 2013, while E-ZPass rates will increase from $2 to $3.60 over that period. Commuters who pay 40 cents will have to pay $1.40 by 2013.

Increases were also approved for the Gov. Harry M. Nice Memorial Bridge, in Southern Maryland, and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway and Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge in the northeastern region of the state.

There will be no toll increases for the Intercounty Connector, which opened this year in Montgomery County.

Most complaints about the toll hikes have come from Eastern Shore residents who argue increasing tolls on the Bay Bridge will hurt residents who drive the bridge to work and deter visitors from coming to the coast for vacation.

Delegate Stephen S. Hershey Jr., Queen Anne’s Republican, called the increases a “political move” designed to help pay for facilities elsewhere in the state, including the ICC.

“This is a job-killing plan that will magnify the burden that our commuters and business already incur,” he said.