Toll Increase Plan May Not Be A Done Deal

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It appears the public’s outrage over the planned toll increase for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and other spans and tunnels in Maryland was not only heard loud and clear, but state officials may have actually listened as well. After all, there’s s major difference between hearing and listening.

The state is planning in October to increase the $2.50 eastbound toll to $5 in October. That much appeared to be a certainty heading into the summer. The plan come 2013 was then to increase it to $8. Those rates are for motorists paying cash and not commuters or E-ZPass users. The cost for E-ZPass users would go from $2.50 to $4.50 to $7.20, and the commuter rate would rise from $1 to $1.50 to $2.80.

After a series of public hearings, where the great majority blasted the Maryland Transportation Authority’s (MDTA) plan to hike the tolls, there seems to be some hope the increases are not the mere formality many expected.

In many cases, governments release a proposal, culled privately by their very own departments, to the public and then organize public hearings on the suggestions. In most of these instances, the public hearings are mere formalities. Most officials have their minds made up and the hearings are simply held to appear respectful to the public and to give residents a chance to express themselves.

However, in the case of the proposed toll increases, the messages expressed by the nearly 4,000 citizens at the 10 public hearings across the state have given the MDTA reason to pause.

The first immediate change is the decision to delay the first toll hike from Oct. 1 to sometime later in 2011.

Other reconsiderations include the size of the toll increases proposed to take effect July 1, 2013; commuter toll rates; impact on drivers of recreational vehicles/trailers; impact on trucking companies; replacement of the Hatem Bridge AVI decal; size of the new E-ZPass Maryland discount; and the $1.50 E-ZPass account charge implemented two years ago.

This is an encouraging and surprise turn of events, and the feedback from the public should be credited.

Sources indicate the planned toll increases or at least the amounts charged for this fall will most likely go through as proposed, doubling the Bay Bridge toll to $5. However, it appears the 2013 increase could be scrapped altogether or at a minimum reduced.

While we still think the doubling of the toll is outlandish, it’s at least encouraging to learn the state was listening to the residents who took time out of their busy lives to speak out against the plan this summer, and, maybe just maybe, their comments will impact the end result.

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