For many Marylanders, the issue of tolls is intertwined with taxes. Many are aware that the governor and General Assembly have dipped into the state's Transportation Trust Fund, which is funded by taxes and fees, to balance the general fund budget.

To open the meeting, Swaim-Staley emphasized the separation between the authority and the fund.

"Tolls are not shared with the Transportation Trust Fund or the general fund either," Swaim-Staley said. Nor, she said, does the authority receive tax money or federal aid.

In addition to the increases, the board's proposal would make several changes to the way Maryland charges tolls. Among these, it would:

•Give users of Maryland-issued E-ZPasses a 10 percent discount on tolls paid in cash.

•Scale back Maryland's commuter discounts, which are now among the most generous in the country. They would be cut to 70 percent of the cash rate in October and 65 percent in 2013. For a commuter using one of the harbor crossings in both directions, that would mean a daily increase from 80 cents now to $1.80 in October and $2.80 in 2013.

•Eliminate the decal system at the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge on the Susquehanna River, which lets frequent users pay $10 for unlimited use of that crossing for a year. The plan would replace the decals with an E-ZPass-based system under which users would pay $36 a year starting Oct. 1 and $72 a year starting in 2013.

•Replace the current $3 fee for mailing notices of tolls due with a 25 percent surcharge. That percentage would be added to the toll on vehicles that use the ICC without E-ZPasses and get a camera-generated bill in the mail, as well as to users of other toll facilities who go through E-ZPass lanes and whose payments don't register. The effect would be to lower the cost for drivers of personal vehicles and to increase them for large trucks that pay higher per-axle tolls.

Board member Mike Lewin said the toll facility system has identified $600 million to $1 billion of needed maintenance.

"If a bridge falls down, let me tell you, you know what the outcome of that is going to be," he said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com