Proposed Bay Bridge Toll Hikes Worry Officials

OCEAN CITY — Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) board members last week announced a proposal to double the tolls on the Bay Bridge this fall and triple the rates by 2013, causing a gamut of emotions for some Eastern Shore lawmakers from concern to outrage.

MTA board members met last week in a work session regarding possible toll increases on most major bridges and tunnels in the state’s complex transportation network. Among the proposals floated by the board is a potential increase in the Bay Bridge toll from the current $2.50 one way to $5 in October, with the toll more than tripling to $8 by 2013. The increases are proposed to raise revenue for future transportation projects and to maintain the safety and appearance of the existing structures.

It’s important to note the toll hikes are only being proposed by the MTA board at this time and formal recommendation might not come until next month. In any case, major changes to the toll structure at the Bay Bridge and other major bridges and tunnels will not be formalized without a lengthy public opinion period.

Nonetheless, many lawmakers came out opposed to the proposed toll hikes this week with some more adamant than others.

Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B), who represents Worcester County, Ocean City and much of the Lower Shore, said the proposed increases appeared to be excessive.

“I think for a lot of people it’s going to be a lot to swallow all at once,” he said. “They’re not talking about a modest increase, they’re talking about doubling and tripling these tolls. I realize the tolls haven’t been increased since 1975, but this seems like too much, too fast.”

McDermott said the proposed increases could affect vacationers’ plans to come to Ocean City and other destinations on the shore, but thought the impact would be greater on short-term visitors and day-trippers.

“I’m not sure it will have an effect on those people who have planned a vacation for several days,” he said. “They’re probably coming any way. What it will affect is the day-trippers, who will take into consideration that added expense before they head over to the Eastern Shore.”

Perhaps more importantly, the proposed toll increases could add to the cost of doing business on the Eastern Shore, according to McDermott, who pointed out the comparatively low development on Virginia’s eastern shore because of the expense of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

“The state made a decision a long time ago to encourage the development of commerce on the Eastern Shore and that bridge is a pipeline for that commerce as a means to transport goods and services,” he said. “Doubling and tripling those tolls is going to add a cost to the price of doing business and we’re all going to pay for that.”

Senator Andy Harris (R-Md.), whose district spans both sides of the Chesapeake, said this week the proposed increases are symptomatic of the state government’s tax and spend mentality.

“Maryland families and job creators, particularly on the Eastern Shore, cannot afford another tax hike by the big spenders in Annapolis,” said Harris. “Governor O’Malley’s administration does not have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem.”

Senator E.J. Pipkin (R-36) who represents the communities closest to the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, was even more outspoken about the proposed toll hikes.

“The proposed tolls give the term highway robbery a new meaning,” he said. “Sky-high tolls along with the $4 a gallon cost of gas delivers a one-two punch to Maryland’s commuting and motoring public. Let’s face it, the people are not going to greet these outrageous toll hikes with general acceptance.”