Marylanders: For Whom the Tolls Swell

Hot on the heels of Virginia officials celebrating the possibility of turning I-95 into a toll road, Maryland is looking to raise much-needed road repair revenues by raising the price of the state's existing tolls. In a front-page story today in the Washington Post, Maryland transportation officials explain that they "had no choice but to raise tolls" because congested highways and crumbling bridges are overdue for some massive repair bills.

Most of the transportation network was built over 50 years ago so it has taken quite a beating since then. According to a recent study by a nonprofit transportation research group, 44 percent of Maryland's roads were in bad condition, and 25 percent of its bridges were deteriorating or obsolete.

Revenue at Maryland’s toll facilities has dropped over the past several years as gas prices rose and traffic dipped during the recession. Although raising rates during an economic crisis is not ideal, some of the commuter tolls haven't gone up at all since the 1970s. As a result, drivers traveling across the Bay bridges will see their rates double.

Maryland, like many states, has little choice given that it has been deferring hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transportation projects in recent years and also cut back road maintenance because of a lack of money. Unfortunately, the costs can't be alleviated with federal funds because it doesn't look like Congress will reauthorize long-term transportation legislation any time soon. Not to mention that lawmakers are loathe to make up the sharp funding shortfalls over the past several years by increasing state or federal gas taxes -- the latter last happened in 1993.

The bottom line is that America's aging highway network is deteriorating at a rapid rate, at a time when there is less cash available to keep up with needed improvements. President Obama's recent plan -- the American Jobs Act -- would be a big step toward addressing this problem, putting Americans back to work across the country to fix our transportation infrastructure. NRDC urges Congress to pass the bill.

Even so, more and more states will be counting on tolls and other creative cash-generating measures to help them fill the growing gap in their infrastructure funding. At the same time, NRDC believes the road to recovery requires investing in our nation’s transportation system to make less polluting, more sustainable transportation alternatives more available to people. After all, allowing people more options so they can drive less will lead to less traffic congestion and a less wear and tear on our roads.