Senator blasts proposed toll increases
The Senate's leading critic of the toll authority, Republican E. J. Pipkin from the Upper Eastern Shore, denounced the proposed increases as "outrageous."
"It just shows how out of touch the O'Malley administration is with the average working family," Pipkin said. "Do you think the average family income in Maryland has gone up 300 percent?"
The staff of the authority outlined increases that would in some cases double tolls in October of this year and triple them from current levels in 2013. At the Bay Bridge, a particular interest of Pipkin's Eastern Shore constituents, the $2.50 toll that has been in place since the 1970s would go to $5 in October and $8 in 2013.
The authority has long been an independent entity that does not answer directly to the General Assembly and that can raise tolls without legislative review. Pipkin noted that he proposed legislation that would have curbed the authority's toll-raising powers but that it had been successfully opposed by the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Pipkin said the proposed increases show why the authority's "independence should be questioned." He urged citizens to call the governor's office and the authority itself to protest the possible increases.
The senator suggested that much of the demand for money to pay bondholders comes from the costs of building the Intercounty Connector, a partially opened toll road in the Washington suburbs. The $2.6 billion highway was proposed as a toll road under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and continued in the same form by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Pipkin contended that users of the Bay Bridge and other facilities shouldn't have to pay more to cover the costs of that project. "If the ICC threw the finances out of whack, they ought to address it through the ICC," he said.
The ICC, conceived as a road where rates would vary by market demand and congestion levels, is not affected by the current set of increases. Authority officials said its rates had only recently been adopted and that when it fully opens late this year or early in 2012 the tolls would fall within the rate originally set.