- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s trucking industry is urging state officials to stop plans to increase tolls, which they say will damage an industry already hurt by increasing gas prices and the recent recession.

Representatives from the Maryland Motor Truck Association stated their concerns at a hearing Tuesday hosted by the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

The Maryland Transportation Authority in June proposed rate increases at seven of the state’s eight toll facilities to help pay for upkeep and settle debts from recent road projects. The authority could finalize its plan later this summer, with the earliest toll increases going into effect in October.

Trucking officials said they are already reeling from high gas prices — which have doubled in the past two years — and rising equipment costs. And the higher tolls could force them to scale down operations, pass extra costs onto consumers or simply avoid toll roads.

“If it’s a matter of saving business by taking side roads, it’s a decision we could have to make,” said Timmy Nelson, chairman of MMTA’s board of directors and public affairs manager for UPS.

The proposed increases would be phased in during the next two years. And in most cases, they would double or triple existing rates at every facility except the Intercounty Connector, which opened this year.

Eastbound drivers on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge would see some of the largest increases — the $1 commuter rate for passenger vehicles going to $2.80 by July 2013. Current E-ZPass and general-public rates of $2.50 would increase, respectively, to $7.20 and $8 over that period.

While state officials have pointed out that Maryland’s toll rates for passenger vehicles are among the country’s lowest and will remain competitive, trucking industry officials said a proposed increase will push truck rates beyond those in many other states, including bordering Virginia.

“We need to find ways not to impact them again, because they’ve been impacted pretty hard,” said Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., Anne Arundel Democrat.

Large trucks would also be affected, with rates for three-axle vehicles going from $9 to $24, and rates for vehicles with six or more axles going from $18 to $60.

State transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said public complaints have focused largely on the proposed increases’ impact on large trucks and personal vehicles towing recreational equipment.

MDTA officials held nine public hearings in June to discuss the increases, and residents have until Monday to submit written testimony.

“We were serious when we said we were going out to hear public comment and we would take public comments into consideration before we vote,” Ms. Swain-Staley said.



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