Toll expert: Increase is steep but overdue
A leading expert of toll facilities said the proposed increase outlined by the staff of the Maryland Transportation Authority Thursday are steep because they are making up for years in which the state's tolls lagged behind national trends.
Peter Samuel, editor of Frederick-based Toll Road News, said the Bay Bridge and commuter tolls are particularly "cheap." Samuel said the rates being proposed would take them to levels consistent with national trends. He noted that Maryland has gone almost a decade since increasing its base-rate tolls for passenger vehicles.
"I think it's been a long time coming. I don't think it's necessarily excessive," he said. "I personally think they should have bitten the bullet 2-3--4 years ago."
But Samuel said there's a cost to playing catch-up after years of shying away from increases.
"They're probably going to stir up quite a political hornet's nest with increases as big as this," he said. "Normally (toll agencies) spread things out over s longer period than this. This is pretty sudden."
Samuel said it's entirely plausible that Maryland would need significant toll increases to keep up with its bond obligations for construction of the Intercounty Connector and other projects. The authority is currently bumping up against its statutory limit of carrying $3 billion in debt.
"It's just a matter of arithmetic," he said. "They have been taking on a lot of debt. The ICC is a very expensive road."
Samuel said a political "hue and cry" could prompt the authority to modify the staff proposal to some extent but he warned that an overt intervention by elected officials to block the increase could have serious consequences.
"They might have a financial crisis. They might have trouble with the bonds they've issued and they might have to suspend some of their capital programs," he said. "Some thing's got to give, and this is what's going."