Baltimore area passenger vehicles will pay $3 each way for the Interstate 895 Harbor Tunnel and the Interstate 95 Fort McHenry Tunnel starting in November — up from $2 each way — and $4 beginning in July 2013. Tolls on I-95 between Baltimore and the Delaware state line will rise in November from $5 to $6, then to $8 in July 2013.
Opposition to toll hike
The toll increase, initially proposed in June, drew vocal opposition in some parts of the state, particularly on the Eastern Shore and in Harford and Cecil counties, where motorists said the higher rates would be too expensive for those who use local bridges several times a day for commuting, business and errands. The authority received more than 3,800 public comments, and some of the 10 public hearings across the state were packed.
Swaim-Staley said the reaction prompted the board to scale back the proposed increases for passenger vehicles on the Bay Bridge, the Nice Bridge and some others. Board members said they also waived the monthly $1.50 account fee for E-ZPass users who have traveled on three or more toll facilities in the previous month and increased the commuter discount rate from 70 percent to 75 percent.
But state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne’s) said the authority had effectively passed a tax increase.
“Shame, shame, shame,” Pipkin told reporters after the vote. “All the governor and the secretary and this board did here today was kill jobs.”
Pipkin said some of his Eastern Shore constituents would pay hundreds more in commuting costs.
“We saw [at public hearings] working-class citizens saying these toll increases would really impact families when the economy is at its worst,” Pipkin said.
Impact on truckers
Commercial truckers, including many who rely on Baltimore area tunnels to retrieve shipping containers from the port, also will be hit hard, said Louis Campion, president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association. A tractor-trailer that now pays $12 each way to use the Fort McHenry Tunnel will pay $18 each way beginning in January and $24 each way as of July 2013.
The additional $12 daily that a truck driver making a round trip from the port will pay in tolls beginning in January will amount to $3,000 annually. That extra cost multiplied by 10 for a small trucking company amounts to almost the annual salary of one driver, Campion said. While consumers will end up paying higher costs long term, he said, trucking companies that can’t renegotiate shipping contracts in a tight economy will have to absorb the costs for now.
Campion said this will be the fourth toll hike in Maryland to affect truckers since 2001, while commuter toll rates have held steady and remained “artificially low” on some bridges and roads for 25 years.
“Our industry has been paying its fair share,” Campion said.