“I know it’s a very tough time and this is very hard for the public, but I can’t stress enough that we had no choice but to raise tolls,” Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley said at the board meeting in the authority headquarters near the Port of Baltimore. “Commitments were made, and bills were coming due. . . . This is definitely not something that any of us wanted to do.”
As part of the package, the transportation authority raised cash tolls for cars on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from $2.50 to $4 and on the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Southern Maryland from $3 to $4. Tolls on both bridges will rise again in July 2013 to $6.
Tolls on some facilities, such as the Bay Bridge, had not increased for passenger vehicles since the 1970s, Maryland officials said.
Like many states, Maryland has already deferred hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transportation projects in recent years and cut back road maintenance because of a lack of money. Lawmakers have repeatedly declined to raise the state gas tax, and Congress is expected to make significant cuts in federal transportation money to states as it struggles to pass new long-term funding legislation.
Revenue at Maryland’s toll facilities has dropped over the past several years as gas prices rose and traffic, particularly commercial trucking, dropped during the recession.
The toll increases will only fund repairs to the eight bridges, tunnels and roads that the authority controls. Maryland still has the larger problem facing many states: finding more money to repair the rest of its aging transportation infrastructure.
Swaim-Staley said the state must pay debt service on bonds issued to pay for repairs to bridges, tunnels and roads now reaching 50 to 70 years old. A study released by a nonprofit transportation research group in February said 44 percent of the state’s roads were in bad condition, and 25 percent of its bridges were deteriorating or obsolete.
The money also will help pay for construction of the $2.56 billion ICC, which is scheduled to be completed to its full 18.8 miles by early next year, and $1 billion worth of express toll lanes on I-95 near Baltimore.
Swaim-Staley said she expects the higher tolls to raise $225 million by 2014.
The Maryland decision followed news from Virginia officials this week that the federal government has granted conditional approval for the commonwealth to implement tolls on Interstate 95 to help pay for improvements to the congested corridor.