Democrats propose annual pass system for Key Bridge tolls
Wednesday, 27 August 2014 12:04
 by Ben Boehl

    It took a while, but it appears that the Democratic state legislative candidates in the 6th District are on the same page, at least on the topic of tolls.
    State Senate candidate Del. John Olszewski, Jr. and Del. Mike Weir have been campaigning together, but House candidates Jake Mohorovic and Nick D’Adamo had appeared to be taking an arm’s-length approach to their fellow Democratic nominees.
    However, the full slate is now cooperating on legislation that would help motorists with the cost of tolls.
    Olszewski and Mohorovic announced that, if elected, they will cross-file legislation in both houses of the General Assembly in January to lower toll rates on the Francis Scott Key Bridge. D’Adamo and Weir agreed to serve as co-sponsors of the cross-filed legislation.
    The bill would create a commuter plan for the I-695 harbor crossing that would be similar to the Hatem Bridge Plan, which connects motorists between Harford and Cecil counties on U.S. 40.  
   
The Hatem plan allows drivers of two-axle vehicles to pay a flat annual rate of $20 for unlimited trips.
    “This legislation is just one way that we will fight back [against] the senseless toll increases that have been thrown upon our residents in recent years,” Olszewski said.
    “A flat fee would provide needed relief to area residents constantly being charged to travel around the region.”
    According to Olszewski, the cost of the Key Bridge has been paid off and the revenue currently collected at the facility covers the minimal cost of maintenance.
    Olszewski added that the extra revenue from the bridge and the Baltimore Harbor and Fort McHenry tunnels is being used to fund other state projects such as the Intercounty Connector in Montgomery County and the express toll lanes on Interstate 95 in White Marsh.
    “I don’t think it is right that [funding] those facilities should be placed on the backs of our residents,” he noted.
    During the 2014 legislative session, Olszewski noted, he and Weir filed legislation to make tolls tax-deductible. Olszewski said that Montgomery County Del. Sheila Hixson, chair of the Ways and Means committee, did not allow the legislation to come up for a vote, but Olszewski believed he had the votes to get it passed.     
    Mohorovic added that even though this is a localized issue, the Democrats believe they can get support for the measure.
    “They are building the Purple Line (a 16-mile light rail line extending from Bethesda to New Carrollton) that costs millions,” far beyond the cost of the toll proposal, he said.
    Mohorovic explained that the plan would only work on the Key Bridge and not the two tunnels, which both handle heavy through traffic.
    “Anyone can buy the transponder, but it is only good for that bridge,” Mohorovic added.
    When talk of raising the bridge toll to $4 each way began in 2010, Olszewski said, he came up with the idea of an annual pass. He also credits his Democratic primary opponent Russ Mirabile for having a similar idea.
    “It is something that I have mentioned in the past, and I believe that Russ mentioned [a similar idea] in his ads. No one has a monopoly on good ideas,” he said.
    Republican House of Delegates candidates Bob Long and Ric Metzgar both said they support the Democrats’ idea. Long added that he likes Olszewski’s idea, but questions the timing.
    “If I’m in Annapolis, I will work with [Olszewski]. I would absolutely support any relief on tolls for our citizens,” Long said.
    “I’m glad [the Democrats] are thinking about our community, although they are doing it right before the election.”
    Fellow Republican House candidate Robin Grammer called the proposal an “election-time gimmick” and said there needs to be solutions that address the core of the toll problem.
    “While the idea of immediate relief for the Key Bridge sounds good, it does nothing to fix the deep-rooted problems behind the toll increases,” Grammer said.
    “It does nothing to give relief to residents who travel through the other toll [facilities] throughout the state on their way to work. It does nothing to give relief to small business owners for whom tolls and fuel are major expenses.”