STATE TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY
E-ZPass, Truck Costs May Rise
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Maryland's 530,000 E-ZPass users will be paying monthly service charges and tolls on big trucks will rise if a package of fee increases proposed yesterday by the state's Transportation Authority is approved this month.
The authority's "cost recovery effort" is expected to generate $60 million a year and is meant to offset a 6 percent drop in revenue from July to November, Executive Secretary Ronald Freeland said. Passenger cars would be spared a toll increase, but large trucks and cars hauling trailers would be charged $2 to $13 more, depending on the location.
Under the proposed changes, E-ZPass users would start paying a $1.50 monthly service fee beginning in July, and the authority would no longer provide E-ZPass transponders free of charge. Participating motorists would have to buy transponders, at a cost of $21 for a standard device.
"The economic picture is not very rosy right now," Freeland said. "We simply were not going to let ourselves get to a point where projects were jeopardized."
Public comment on the proposed changes will be accepted until Jan. 27, and the authority board is expected to act on them Jan. 29. If approved, the changes would become official at various dates throughout the year.
The revenue package is meeting some resistance. Louis Campion, senior vice president of the Maryland Motor Trucking Association, said the proposed toll increases are unfair to truckers because they apply only to vehicles with three or more axles, exempting passenger cars.
"It really smacks of political pandering, because they are trying to balance their budget almost exclusively on the backs of the trucking industry," Campion said.
He said trucks account for about 10 percent of traffic on toll roads and pay 30 percent of the tolls. He called the $1.50 monthly service charge on E-ZPass accounts a "minuscule amount of money" compared with the burden that truckers will face.
Freeland, of the Transportation Authority, countered that wear and tear caused by trucks account for about 35 to 39 percent of the cost of maintaining highways.
Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the proposed toll and fee increases are "necessary and fair . . . particularly in light of today's economy."
"We understand the need for these increases," she said. "That proposal is consistent with AAA's stance that all road users should pay their fair share."
The Transportation Authority operates seven toll facilities and is in charge of such projects as the Intercounty Connector and the Interstate 95 express toll lanes. Tolls were last increased in 2003, doubling for all vehicles at Baltimore toll facilities and increasing by 25 percent for all vehicles at the Hatem Bridge on U.S. 40 and on that stretch of I-95 known as the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, according to a Transportation Authority news release.