BERLIN — If it wasn’t clear that the folks on the lower Eastern Shore were against the proposed increase in the Bay Bridge toll, the fact that Del. Norman Conway was shouted down by the crowd for suggesting a compromise should have driven the point home.
Conway was one of the many people who came out last week to speak against the proposed increase, suggesting the $8 eventual toll hike be reduced to $5. Others suggested incremental hikes along the lines of 50 cents and still others were against any hike at all.
While he acknowledged that the crowd was more opposed to any increase than he had anticipated, Conway suggested that it was all the more reason the increase be reconsidered in a way more palatable to more Marylanders. A point he made in his closing statement.
“Listen carefully to what the people across the state have had to say,” he said.
During the 10 public hearings, residents have soundly come out against the proposed bump to $8, showing that the Bay Bridge toll increase is equally concerning to groups on both sides of the bridge.
The vitriol directed at officials of the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) board who came to town for the region’s public information and hearing could not have been unexpected by the board members.
Members of the audience made it clear they felt betrayed by a system that lacked the courage to make incremental cost adjustments as needed, waiting until a funding crisis forced what many said was an unreasonable cost adjustment.
The last time there was a commuter toll hike for the Bay Bridge was 1983 when it went up to $1 from 90 cents. Over that time, the cost of maintenance has surpassed the cost to build the bridge.
Under the proposed plan, the cost for commuters and occasional users would increase from $1-$2.50 to 1.50-$5 respectively in October and than to $2.80-$8 respectively in July 2013.
Setting aside suggestions that would leave the rates frozen at the 1983 levels or keep the proposed increase well below $1, several alternate proposals have been suggested by both Conway and Sen. Mathias that would reduce the immediate jump significantly with an eye on cutting costs while putting incremental increases in place aimed at solving the funding shortfall in the longer-term.
According to MDTA, the bridges run on a zero-sum basis. That is, all the repairs, services, and maintenance — from deck repair to snow removal — are funded exclusively by toll collections. With the advent of EZ-Pass, however, it is possible to drastically reduce the number of toll takers needed by increasing the number of EZ-Pass holders. EZ-Pass is a computerized billing apparatus that uses radio signals and a pre-paid account to charge for a toll rather than require cash or ticket purchases.
Many have suggested using significant discounts to increase the appeal of EZ-Pass so that even very occasional users will experience its benefits. Under the current plan, EZ-Pass users will receive no discount until the large increase goes into effect in 2013 and then receive only a 10 percent discount for use.
An alternate plan would make the discounts more significant and have them take place sooner doing more to begin to reduce both the backups and the need for extra attendants nearer in the future.
Although this was the last of the public hearings, residents are still invited to let the MDTA know their position on the matter. People who wish to submit their comments via the Internet may do so at the MDTA Website: HYPERLINK "http://www.mdta.aryland.gov" www.mdta.maryland.gov.
Thy may also submit their comments in writing and mail them to: MDTA Toll Comment, 2310 Broening Highway, Baltimore MD 21224.
All comments must be received by Monday, Aug. 1. The board is expected to render a final decision on the tolls at the end of the summer though no firm date for the decision has been set.