MDOT chief: Toll increases are unavoidable
Whether Marylanders like it or not, tolls have to go up, Maryland's transportation chief says.
Beverly Swaim-Staley, who in her role as secretary of Transportation chairs the Maryland Transportation Authority, said the package of $210 million in toll increases outlined yesterday for a committee of the authority's board is a regrettable necessity. She said the authority needs the increased revenue to pay bondholders and to keep up with the escalating costs of maintaining an aging system.
"They are at an age where they need major rehabilitation and we need to pay for that rehabilitation," Swaim-Staley said.
The secretary noted that both the Hatem and Nice bridges are 70 years old, while the two spans of the Bay Bridge opened in 1952 and 1973. The Harbor Tunnel is 55 years old, and the John F. Kennedy Highway opened in 1963.
Swaim-Staley also noted that most of Interstate 95 as it goes through the city -- a stretch of highway that the authority maintains -- is the equivalent of a long bridge because the roadway is elevated. The authority's current maintenance plans call for expensive rehabilitation projects along much of the roadway approaching the tunnels under the harbor.
The details of the toll package outlined by the authority's staff are not graven in stone. Swaim-Staley noted that the package will be the subject of nine public hearings starting in June, giving the board an opportunity to make adjustments in response to public concerns.
But Swaim-Staley said the overall size of the toll increase is relatively inflexible because of the consequences of failing to raise enough money to meet the system's obligations. She said a failure to act could result in a default, which would cost the authority its top-tier AA bond rating and escalate the cost of future borrowing.