- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2011

Maryland transportation officials are considering toll increases on motorists to raise millions for road maintenance.

The Maryland Transportation Authority, which oversees the state’s eight toll facilities, has suggested toll hikes to collect more than $200 million over the next four years, state Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley said Thursday.

MDTA officials discussed the proposal at a meeting Thursday. Mrs. Swaim-Staley said the increases will be discussed at future meetings and a public hearing. However, the changes are likely needed to pay for repaving, painting and other maintenance of toll roads that are in many cases more than 50 years old.

“We’re trying to be very upfront with people in terms of what needs are out there,” she said.

Mrs. Swaim-Staley said the toll increases could bring in $88 million for the MDTA in their first two years, and more than $200 million within the first four years.

Toll increases could go into effect as soon as October. The Intercounty Connector, which opened in February and is the D.C. area’s only Maryland-operated toll road, would be the state’s lone toll road not to have an increase.

Among the proposed increases are raising the toll for most vehicles on the Bay Bridge from $2.50 to $5, then $8 in 2013. The commuter rate would go from $1 to $1.50, then $2.80 in 2013.

General rates for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway — a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 95 from Baltimore to Delaware — would go from $5 to $6, then $8 a trip. Commuter rates would increase from 80 cents to $1.80, then $2.80.

Mrs. Swaim-Staley defended the proposal, saying Maryland’s commuter discounts are among the largest in the country.

The MDTA is funded separately from the state’s other roads and general transportation projects, so its needs are unrelated to current money woes facing the Department of Transportation and its depleted Transportation Trust Fund.

A state-appointed commission has proposed that officials find $800 million in new revenue to replenish the trust fund and finance general road and transit projects.

The new revenue would largely come from tax increases, and legislators have discussed using a special General Assembly session this fall to fund transportation by raising the state’s gas or sales taxes.

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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