Harris opposes doubling Bay Bridge toll
Sun Washington correspondent John Fritze reports:
With the Bay Bridge as a backdrop, Rep. Andy Harris said Wednesday that Maryland officials have unfairly targeted rural areas of the state for toll increases, and suggested Congress should consider withholding federal transportation money from states unless they demonstrate they will spend it equitably.
The Baltimore County Republican, whose competitive district includes the Eastern Shore, suggested that a state proposal to double the $2.50 eastbound toll on the bridge this year is evidence of a larger preference by some state governments, to direct a greater share of transportation money to urban areas.
“I don't think we're going to stand by and watch systematically the rural areas of the country getting shortchanged,” said Harris, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Asked if the Republican majority in the House would consider making federal transportation funding to states contingent on the issue, Harris said: “If you accept the federal dollars I think you're going to have to show that your state is not preferentially spending its transportation dollars in one area at the expense of the rural areas.”
The Maryland Transportation Authority has proposed a four-year, $210 million package of toll increases on several facilities, including the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels and the Bay and Key bridges.
State transportation officials say the revenues are used to maintain toll facilities and is kept separate from federal transportation dollars. Maryland Department of Transportation spokesman Jack Cahalan said many of the state's toll facilities cost more to maintain than they did to build.
“To keep these facilities safe and operational you have to reinvest in them in major ways,” said Cahalan. He said the bridge toll has not increased since 1975, when Gerald Ford was president.
He said federal transportation funding is not allocated based on where a project is located but rather on need. He said the state continued to spend federal money on routes 404 and 113 on the Eastern Shore, for instance. He also said the state does not keep track of how much money is spent in rural areas versus urban ones.
Congressional committees are drafting a new version of the massive bill that sets funding priorities for the nation's roadways, but the final product will face a difficult climb in Washington this year with both parties focus on cutting federal spending — and the 2012 election.
Harris made the comments during a press conference to highlight the impact the toll increase for the bridge would have on Eastern Shore businesses. The $2.50 eastbound toll would double this year and increase to $8 in 2013 under the state proposal. The increase comes as drivers are already wrestling with $4-a-gallon gas.
“It's essentially a tax on the citizens of the Eastern Shore,” Harris said.