Once again, the Maryland Transportation Authority seems poised to use its non-elected position to pass along ill-advised toll increases on residents of southeast Baltimore County and the entire Baltimore metropolitan region. This decision comes despite considerable public outcry, suggesting that the members were either not listening or did not care about what local residents had to say.
Indeed, plans to raise the basic round-trip rates at all Baltimore-area crossings to $8 (up from the current $4) for a round trip beginning in 2013 remain intact. Meanwhile, the MTA did agree to scale back the proposed hike at the Bay Bridge (from $8 to $6), leaving an unfair balance intact amongst the state’s toll facilities.
I find it incomprehensible as to why the authority believes that a bridge more than twice the size of our Francis Scott Key Bridge should have a lower toll rate.
It also appears the MTA will not take actions to prevent an unprecedented increase in commuter rates, slated to rise 250 percent, from 80 cents a round-trip to $2.80 a round trip – costing more than $500 annually for a single daily commuter! All the while, users of the Hatem Bridge will have access to unlimited crossings for a mere $20 per year.
Ironically, toll rates are set to increase at every toll facility in the state except at one location that is driving the need for the authority to find more operating capital: the Intercounty Connector.
One small improvement from the original plan that I agree with is to remove the $1.50 per month administrative fee for EZ-Pass users. Still, that change is no consolation for the thousands of our residents that rely on these transportation systems to access employment, education and child care.
Unfortunately, these increases are not subject to review by the General Assembly or the governor. In response, I will be working with my colleagues in District 6 and from around the state to pursue a couple of policy changes.
One option is to remove the toll-setting authority from these unelected individuals and place the responsibility back where it belongs: with the executive and the legislature.
Additionally, I plan to push for new state income tax provisions that will allow residents living in close proximity to the toll facilities to deduct the costs of tolls (regardless of the purpose of the travel) on their state tax returns. Such a deduction would not fully offset the increased expenses we can all expect, but it will certainly help blunt the impact.
In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to contact the secretary of transportation, who also sits on the MTA board that makes these decisions, to express your frustration and disappointment. Likewise, I encourage you to contact the governor’s office to let him know that you are not pleased with the outcome, and that you expect him to help those impacted during the upcoming legislative session.
I remain committed to fighting for you every day as your delegate on this and every issue.
State Del. John A. Olszewski, Jr. can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His district phone number is 410 282-1733.