- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

STEVENSVILLE, Md. (AP) — Vacationers, Eastern Shore commuters and others could be facing a Chesapeake Bay Bridge toll hike, state officials said.

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, Queen Anne’s County Republican, said he hasn’t heard any specific amount for an increase, but said now is the time for people to let transportation officials know how they feel about a higher toll.

“People have to pick up the phone or send e-mails,” Mr. Pipkin said. “The more the public lets the Department of Transportation know about this, the better off we’ll be.”

The toll is $2.50 and is paid by only those heading to the Eastern Shore.

Lori Vidil, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, confirmed that the authority is evaluating all of its facilities for possible toll increases but said that should not come as a surprise.

The authority raised tolls on the Hatem Bridge (U.S. 40 at the Susquehanna River), the JFK Highway (Interstate 95) and the Nice Bridge (U.S. 301 at the Potomac River) in November 2001, saying at the time that it would look at increases at all facilities in two to three years, the spokeswoman said.

“That’s where we are now,” Miss Vidil said.

Mr. Pipkin likened a toll increase to a tax increase on people from the upper Eastern Shore who cross the bridge daily to get to and from work.

“I was not elected to raise taxes. I will oppose tax increases in any form, and that includes toll hikes,” Mr. Pipkin said.

Mr. Pipkin said the transportation authority can increase tolls without General Assembly approval.

“That’s why I am registering my strong opposition to a toll hike early and often,” he said. “This would have a direct impact on all our lives.”

Miss Vidil said the authority meets monthly and could make a decision at any of its meetings. If a toll increase is announced, the transportation authority can set up a public comment period, as was done at the time of the 2001 increases, the spokeswoman said.

When the first Bay bridge opened in 1952, the toll was $1.40 in each direction. That dropped to $1 in each direction in 1961 and was increased to $1.25 each way in 1975. One-way tolls began in 1991.

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