Residents frustrated over proposed toll hikes

Residents had the chance to weigh in on the proposed toll increases in Maryland Thursday – and plenty did.

The Maryland Transportation Authority held a public hearing on planned increases in bridge and tunnel tolls in Gaithersburg.

“All it amounts to is a new tax and in these bad economic times we don't need new taxes,” said Robin Ficker, an attorney.

“I'm gonna have to think about going to Chesapeake beach or Virginia Beach instead because $8 is a lot of money,” said Gaithersburg resident Dan Schwind.

Under the proposal, tolls on the inter-county connector will go down, but would double on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from $2.50 to $5 this year, then increase it to $8 in 2013. Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels tolls would go from $2 to $3. The E-Z pass commuter rates would also go up.

Officials say the $77 million the toll is expected to raise are needed to fix, maintain and add capacity to roads in the congested Washington-Baltimore corridor.

Del. Steve Hershey said the increase would cripple his district’s economy. “My county specifically has sixty percent of the commuters go across the bay bridge for work,” said Hershey, an Eastern Shore assemblyman.

Mary Conrad commutes through the Harbor Tunnel to work every weekday. “I just can't afford it,” the Gaithersburg resident said.

Lawyer Ficker targeted the state legislature for siphoning money from the transportation fund. “It’s just a way to tap the people of Montgomery County to use their pocketbooks as an ATM,” Ficker said.

But Maryland’s transportation secretary says the state’s roads and bridges need sophisticated repairs and the only way to raise money for that is through the tolls.

“Everybody wants their bridges and tunnels safe. Much of the infrastructure that supports these very sophisticated facilities is under water so people don't even see the work that needs to be done,” said Beverley Swaim-Staley.

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