The Maryland Transportation Authority Board approved a revised toll plan Thursday morning, which it projects will raise $90 million in its first full year, paying down significant debt for previous bonds issued to repair the state's aging bridges, tunnels and highways.
The MDTA Board held 10 hearings around the state after announcing its plans to significantly raise tolls at its facilities. The hearings generated a lot of debate and public outcry.
In Harford and Cecil counties, may have helped to stem toll increases at the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, MDTA Board members said, but overall the initial June proposal largely passed as planned.
"The debt service is the driver," said MDTA chairwoman and Transportation Secretary Beverly K. Swaim-Staley. "We issued bonds in excess of $2 billon to pay for new facilities on I-95, the ICC, and ongoing system preservation, including repairs to the Bay Bridge. The bills are coming due."
Toll increases for passenger cars, light trucks and motorcycles, for example, will increase starting Jan. 1, 2012, from $2 to $3 at the Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels and the Francis Scott Key Bridge; from $5 to $6 at the Kennedy Highway and the Hatem Bridge; and from $2.50 to $4 at the Bay Bridge, according to a MDTA press release.
A modified E-Z Pass plan for the Hatem Bridge keeps the cost for unlimited annual trips the same, at $10, until July 1, 2013.
Further toll increases across the state will begin to go into effect in July of 2013. At the Fort McHenry and Baltimore Harbor tunnels, and the Francis Scott Key Bridge, for example, rates will eventually move to $4 for passenger cars, light trucks and motorcycles. Similiarly, tolls will increase at the Kennedy Highway and the Hatem Bridge to $8 per trip, beginning in July of 2013.
The cost for a 2-axle vehicle crossing the Bay Bridge will increase from $2.50 to $4, and then go to $6 in July of 2013.
"One commuter daily, commuting 50 weeks a year, on average will see a $500 a year cost increase," , who represents the Dundalk and Essex area. "For a family with two commuters, people will pay $1,000 more. That's crushing for a lot of people. There's many people in my district living paycheck to paycheck.
"To put it in perspective," Olszewski said, "when the sales tax when up one percent, that cost less than $200 for the average person. This is a big hit."
Although toll increases were modified for 3 and 4-axle trucks after the summer hearings, truckers will face steep increases as well, leading some to suggest the measure will hurt job growth in the state.
"Shame on the governor and shame on this board," said Maryland State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, who represents parts of Cecil, Caroline, Kent and Queen Anne's counties. "All this governor and the secretary and this board did was manage to kill jobs."
Swaim-Staley acknowledged the board had concerns about the effect on the trucking industry, as well as on commuters, especially given the state of the economy.
"We had no choice but to raise tolls," she said. "Commitments were made and bills needed to be paid."
Click through the photo to find the entire MDTA press release accompanying the board meeting.