Swaim-Staley said the Maryland authority was structured in the same way as many toll agencies around the country, with an appointed board — not political figures — making toll decisions.

"The bondholders who buy your bonds want an expectation that the authority is going to be able to raise the funds when needed," she said. "The authority was very deliberately created to be a different entity."

Swaim-Staley and other board members said the public's involvement throughout the hearing process helped them achieve a better result.

"I think we learned a lot," Swaim-Staley said of the public meetings.

The board's action on the I-95 interchange increases the cost of the express toll lane project to slightly more than $1 billion. The board awarded a contract for $142.6 million to build the interchange, but it offset all but $37 million of that with savings on other contracts in which the bids came in lower than estimated, authority chief engineer Doug Hutcheson said.

The addition means that when the supposedly congestion-free toll lanes open in roughly late 2014, their southbound users will be able to get on and off at Route 43 instead of continuing on to the Beltway. Hutchinson said northbound access to Route 43 would be part of a future, not yet funded, extension on the toll lanes.

The authority pared back the project in 2009 after toll revenue fell off sharply during the 2008-2009 recession. With a rebound in collections and the contract savings from aggressive bidding in a weak construction sector, authority officials decided the interchange could be restored. Agency spokeswoman Cheryl Sparks said the move was not tied to the toll increase.

The express toll lanes will operate parallel to the existing free lanes of I-95. The toll lanes are expected to be priced at rates that will vary with the level of traffic, with the aim of keeping the express lanes free-flowing while the regular lanes are congested.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

Toll rates and increases

Key Bridge, Fort McHenry Tunnel and Harbor Tunnel: now $2 collected both ways; $3 starting Nov. 1; $4 in July 2013

John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway section of Interstate 95 and the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge on U.S. 40 in Northeast Maryland: now $5 collected in one direction; $6 starting this year; $8 in 2013

Bay Bridge: now $2.50, $4 in November, $6 in 2013

Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge (U.S. 301 at the Potomac River): now $3; $4 starting in November; $6 in 2013