The Maryland Transportation Authority announced yesterday that motorists will be able to cross the Bay Bridge for free on two Friday nights this month, thanks to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy and, once again, the Maryland Lottery.
The Ocean Conservancy, which is dedicated to protecting oceans and marine life, will pay $45,962 to sponsor the tolls Friday from 7 p.m. to midnight. Motorists crossing the bridge this week are being given pamphlets advising them of the group and its work.
"We felt this was a unique opportunity to reach a whole group of people who are already predisposed" to caring about the oceans, said Roger T. Rufe, president of the Washington-based conservancy.
The Maryland Lottery will pay $41,355 to sponsor the tolls Aug. 29 from 7 p.m. to midnight. The lottery has covered the tolls twice this summer, on June 6 and July 4.
The state is using the toll sponsorships as a tool to manage congestion. Officials hope the lure of saving $2.50 will encourage people to travel Friday nights instead of Saturdays, when congestion is at its peak.
"Motorists will benefit by not having to pay their own tolls and traveling during off-peak hours when delays are at a minimum," said Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan. "The sponsor will enjoy an unprecedented promotional opportunity and the chance to generate significant good will among the public."
The state places the names of the sponsors on toll-booth and highway signs, and gives them the opportunity to have information distributed at the toll booths during the week before the sponsorship night. Those who cross toll-free are asked to pass through the toll booths at 20 mph.
When they announced the program in the spring, officials had hoped that private businesses would volunteer as sponsors, but none has done so. There will be no sponsorships in the fall, but the state is soliciting bids from ad agencies to manage the program next year.