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Maryland Gov. Hogan proposes more toll changes, but offers few details

Maryland Gov. Hogan proposes more toll changes, but offers few details
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is proposing changes to the state’s toll facilities that he says will result in about $5.6 million in annual savings for drivers. (File photo by Joshua McKerrow)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan proposed changes Friday to the state’s tolls that he said will result in about $5.6 million in annual savings for drivers, but he offered only scant details of his plan.

Hogan’s plan is not an across-the-board cut in tolls, as he pushed through in 2015.

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Rather, it involves a series of lesser changes Hogan says will add up to $28 million in savings over five years. The governor did not explain in his announcement how the total was reached.

“We’re going to continue to try to put more money back in the pockets of taxpayers,” Hogan said in a video posted online by his office, showing him touting his “vision 2020” for reducing tolls to a virtual audience with the Bay Bridge toll plaza as a backdrop.

The board of the Maryland Transportation Authority, which oversees the toll bridges, tunnels and highways, is expected to begin considering the Republican governor’s proposal next week.

One proposal involves cutting toll rates for motorcycles and vehicles towing one-axle and two-axle trailers. Transportation authority spokeswoman Kelly Melhem would not say by how much those tolls would be reduced.

Another change would allow drivers who are billed by video toll cameras — such as on the Intercounty Connector and Interstate 95 express toll lanes — to have an option to get discounts by going online to pay the tolls before invoices are mailed. The amount of the discount was not announced.

The third proposal also affects drivers billed by video toll cameras, allowing them to link a credit card to their license plate, so they can automatically be charged when they use toll facilities. That, too, would trigger a discount; Melhem declined to provide an amount.

Neither the governor’s office nor the transportation authority would provide further details of how the proposals would work or how much each change could save drivers. Melhem said the details won’t be public until Thursday’s board meeting.

“We want folks to stay tuned because there will be more information forthcoming,” she said. “There will be a lot of opportunity to go through the details and for the public to have the opportunity to weigh in.”

Currently, only the Intercounty Connector and the express toll lanes on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore have video tolls. But the Baltimore Beltway’s Key Bridge over the Patapsco River and the Hatem Bridge on U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River are scheduled to go to cashless tolling this fall. Drivers who don’t have E-ZPass transponders will have their license plates scanned and bills mailed to their homes.

At the transportation authority board’s meeting, members will vote whether to move the governor’s proposals forward. If they do so, the next step would be to gather input and hold public hearings, likely in September. A vote would come by the end of the year. If the changes are approved, they would be enacted in 2020.

In 2015, Hogan led an effort for broad decreases in toll rates. They included cutting tolls for the Bay Bridge from $6 to $4 for cash customers to $2.50 for E-ZPass users. At most other toll facilities, E-ZPass users got a 25 percent discount off the cash toll price, compared to 10 percent before. A monthly $1.50 E-ZPass fee also was eliminated for state residents.

Hogan came under fire from some Democrats, who raised concerns that cutting the tolls would hamper the transportation authority’s ability to maintain and improve its facilities.

Last year, the Hogan administration eliminated a $7.50 fee for obtaining an E-ZPass transponder.

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