Gov. Larry Hogan makes E-ZPass devices free for Maryland motorists

The electronic E-ZPass devices that speed motorists through Maryland toll collection plazas will now be given free to new customers, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday.

At a news conference at the Bay Bridge, the Republican governor said the Maryland Transportation Authority will no longer charge the $7.50 fee for the transponders drivers attach to their vehicles.

Hogan said the devices reduce vehicle emissions by reducing backups at toll plazas.

“It is the most efficient toll collection method,” he said. “There truly has never been a better time to get a Maryland E-ZPass.”

In addition, anyone who bought a transponder this year will receive a $7.50 credit in the next several weeks if their accounts are properly registered and in good standing with the state. Holders of the estimated 400,000 older transponders in use in Maryland can have them replaced without charge.

Hogan said the change, which takes effect immediately, will save Marylanders $6 million in transponder costs and provide $40 million in discounts for those who are expected to use E-ZPass over the next five years.

The governor noted that motorists using the state’s E-ZPass pay only $2.50 to cross the Bay Bridge while cash customers pay $4. Customers receive discounts of 25 percent or more at other Maryland toll facilities.

Hogan said the toll authority is taking in enough money to absorb the reduced revenue without any slowdown in continuing maintenance projects for its system of bridges, highways and tunnels. He said the revenue loss will not delay the transportation authority’s single biggest capital project: the $765 million replacement of the nearly 80-year-old Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River on U.S. 301 in Southern Maryland.

The election-year announcement comes three years after Hogan engineered a far more sweeping toll reduction that he said saved Marylanders $316 million. In that round of cuts, he eliminated the $1.50 monthly fee charged to E-ZPass users.

E-ZPass use extends far beyond Maryland’s eight toll facilities. The passes can be used to pay tolls at facilities in 17 states from Maine to North Carolina and as far west as Illinois. They also can be used to pay for parking at five international airports in New York and New Jersey, though not at BWI Marshall Airport.

Hogan said he expects the change to prompt more Marylanders to install E-ZPass devices in their vehicles. But he said there is no plan to eliminate cash toll collection.

“I think we’ll get to the point where everybody’s going to want to use them,” Hogan said.

The Maryland Democratic Party accused Hogan of using the E-ZPass announcement to distract voters from his support for adding toll lanes to Interstates 495 and 270. Hogan’s $7.6 billion plan to relieve traffic congestion on major highways in the Baltimore-Washington corridor ran into controversy in April. Maryland officials were forced to delay awarding a $68.5 million contract to manage the plan because the winning bidder had employed Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn before he joined the Hogan administration.

“Like a typical politician, Gov. Hogan is speaking out of both sides of his mouth on highway tolls,” Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews said in a statement. “The truth is that Gov. Hogan wants more tolls on Maryland’s highways, not less, and his scandal-ridden Lexus Lanes will be unaffordable for working families.”

ddonovan@baltsun.com

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