Maryland's top transportation official on Tuesday defended the Hogan administration's decision to reduce tolls on the state's bridges, tunnels and toll roads, insisting they will not lead to compromises on maintenance or safety.
At a Senate hearing on the reductions, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said the $336 million in decreases announced last month by the Maryland Transportation Authority can be offset with unanticipated extra revenues and spending reductions.
Rahn said the toll cuts should have come as no surprise because Gov. Larry Hogan campaigned on a pledge to reduce tolls.
"The governor has said that he believes it is more important to have money in the pockets of hard-working Marylanders than on the balance sheet of the (authority)," Rahn said.
While Rahn maintained the reduction will not affect plans for future projects, he faced skeptical questioning about the cuts' impact on the possible replacement of the 75-year-old Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge in Southern Maryland.
Sen. Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton of Charles County, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, raised concerns that the authority was squandering a surplus that would be used to move into the construction phase of the bridge about 2020.
Rahn assured senators there is still enough money in the authority's coffers to complete the design phase of work on the bridge but gave no assurance about construction funds.
The authority adopted a series of toll reductions, including a cut in the cash tolls at the Bay Bridge from $6 to $4 and a drop in the E-Z Pass rate to $2.50. Other cuts included in increase in the E-Z Pass discount at fixed toll facilities — excluding the Inter-county Connector and Express Toll Lanes on Interstate 95 — from 10 percent to 25 percent.