- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — The board of the Maryland Transportation Authority has given preliminary approval for a toll increase at two Maryland tunnels and two bridges next month.

Officials said the increases are needed to pay for a major expansion of Interstate 95, as well as improving the tunnels and resurfacing the Key Bridge, which carries the Baltimore Beltway across the Patapsco River.

“We had a choice,” said state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, after the board’s unanimous vote Monday. “We could either let the facilities decay and let congestion overtake us, or we could be proactive and maintain our facilities and begin to take on the congestion.”

The board will take a final vote on the measure Oct. 21. The new tolls would go into effect Nov. 15.

If the plan wins final approval, as expected, tolls would increase from $1 to $2 each way at the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels and the Key Bridge.

The fees would go from $4 to $5 on I-95 north of Baltimore in Cecil County and at the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, which carries U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River.

Those increases would be the first at the tunnels and Key Bridge since 1985. Tolls on I-95 and the Hatem bridge last went up in 2001.

The increases are expected to raise $100 million a year.

Officials said 56 percent of the money would come from out-of-state drivers.

The toll increases would not affect commuter-discount programs. Those who use the programs would continue to pay 40 cents at the tunnels and Key Bridge and 80 cents on I-95 and at the Hatem bridge.

The increases come as the transportation authority, which runs the state’s toll roads and bridges, substantially expands construction to fight congestion. The agency, which has spent about $58 million a year in capital projects recently, plans to increase that to $269 million by 2007.

While much of the money would be spent on preservation of the 15 bridges that are part of I-95 in Baltimore, almost half would go to the I-95 expansion project from the city line to White Marsh Boulevard in Baltimore County. The highway would increase from eight lanes to 12, with construction beginning in 2006.

In voting to raise tolls, board members noted that other Eastern states still charge drivers much more money per mile than Maryland. Delaware, for instance, charges 19 cents per mile on its brief portion of I-95, compared with 4 cents per mile in Maryland.

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