Maryland proposes toll increases

Motorists who use the Intercounty Connector without an E-ZPass would have to pay 25 percent higher tolls, and beach-goers crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge would see their tolls double under a statewide toll increase proposed Thursday.

The Maryland Transportation Authority said higher tolls are needed to repair its tunnels, bridges and highways and to pay for the $2.5 billion ICC and $1 billion worth of express toll lanes on Interstate 95 near Baltimore.

If approved by the authority’s board this summer, it would be Maryland’s first statewide toll increase. For some facilities, such as the bay bridge, it would be the first toll increase since 1975, state officials said.

“Obviously it’s never a good time to do this, but people need to understand that financial obligations were made, and the bills are now coming due,” said Beverley Swaim-Staley, Maryland’s transportation secretary and the authority board’s chairman. “There isn’t really a choice here.”

Motorists hardest hit in the Washington region would be Eastern Shore residents who commute over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge daily to jobs in cities such as Annapolis, Baltimore and the District. Commuter tolls for two-axle vehicles would increase from the current $1 round trip to $1.50 on Oct. 1 and to $2.80 in July 2013.

Drivers of two-axle cars who now pay $2.50 round trip to cross the bridge less regularly would pay $5 on Oct. 1 and $8 in July 2013. Those with E-ZPasses would pay $4.50 in October and $7.20 in July 2013.

Swaim-Staley said ICC tolls for vehicles with E-ZPasses would not increase, because the ICC rates were approved in late 2009. The 20 percent of motorists now using the ICC who don’t have an E-ZPass, however, would be charged 25 percent higher “video toll” rates. Those higher tolls would replace the $3 flat fee now charged to motorists who don’t have a transponder and receive a bill in the mail. Video cameras record the license plates of vehicles without E-ZPasses, and owners are mailed a toll bill along with an image of their vehicle.

Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, predicted that motorists will grumble but said, “I don’t think the increases we’re talking about will really hurt that many people, and they’ll help the Maryland Transportation Authority do work it needs to do.”

But Alan I. Silverstein, president of the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce, said Eastern Shore residents will pay for the tolls via higher prices on everything from food to construction materials shipped over the bridge.

“It’s a combination of timing with the bad economy and gas prices being up, and now they’re saying the Intercounty Connector is going to receive some of these revenues,” Silverstein said. “That doesn’t seem very equitable to us.”

Gregory Ferrese, city manager for Rehoboth Beach, said an extra $2.50 in tolls won’t matter to most tourists and people who own vacation homes.

“With the maintenance they have to do on that bridge, I’d say it’s warranted,” Ferrese said. “That bay bridge is so important to us.”

Public input on the toll proposal is being accepted until Aug. 1. Comments can be submitted via a form available at mdta.maryland.gov or by writing to MDTA Toll Comments, 2310 Broening Hwy., Baltimore, MD 21224. The authority also will hold nine public hearings, including June 9 at Shady Grove Middle School, 8100 Midcounty Hwy., in Gaithersburg; and June 14 at High Point High School, 3601 Powder Mill Rd., in Beltsville. Both hearings will be from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Katherine Shaver is a transportation and development reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 1997 and has covered crime, courts, education and local government but most prefers writing about how people get — or don’t get — around the Washington region.
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