Toll hikes proposed for Maine Turnpike

LEWISTON —  A proposal to increase tolls to generate an additional $26 million a year for the Maine Turnpike was presented to Gov. Paul LePage on Friday and will be rolled out to the public starting June 19 at Auburn Hall.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Maine Turnpike entrance at Gray on June 1, 2011. (file)

Go and do

What: Public meeting on toll increases for Maine Turnpike

Where: Auburn Hall

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 19

Who: Maine Turnpike Authority officials

Peter Mills, executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, said the proposal includes toll increases for the highway's main barrier tolls and a restructuring of rates for E-ZPass holders and commuter discount programs.

Under the proposal favored by the turnpike's board of directors, cash tolls at West Gardiner and New Gloucester tollbooths would increase from $1.75 to $2.50, while the toll at the York booth would go from $2 to $3.

The proposal would also increase tolls for commercial trucks. For example, five-axle trucks now paying $7 to pass through the tollbooth at New Gloucester would pay an estimated $10.63 under the proposal.

The authority studied 10 tolling options to raise the money, which is needed for debt payments on reconstruction bonds coming due between 2014 and 2019, Mills said.

If approved, the proposal would put the turnpike on more solid financial ground in the future and could virtually eliminate the need to borrow for future expansion or other construction, he said.

"The collateral benefit is reducing the need of the turnpike to go to the bond markets in future years," Mills said. "I'm not saying it eliminates it, because you never know quite what the state's demands on us are going to be and we don't know what the traffic situation will be."

Mills said he knows the plan will be controversial. The proposed changes will not be settled until the traveling public weighs in at three meetings this month. In addition to the Auburn meeting, the MTA will hold meetings in Portland on June 20 and in Saco on June 21. All three meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Mills said for most commuters and others who use the highway, the best way to minimize the financial impact would be to convert to the E-ZPass transponder system.

"For a person who lives in Lewiston, with an E-ZPass, whether they use it a little or a lot, they are going to get a better rate than by paying cash," Mills said.

He said he presented the plan Friday to the governor, who knew it was coming, but he wanted the governor to see it first before presenting it to the public.

"Every time I've gone to a Rotary Club or a chamber of commerce, I've said, 'You know, we've got a toll increase coming,' not knowing exactly what it will look like. I still don't know exactly what it will look like."

The decision on the toll changes will be made by the Maine Turnpike Authority's seven-member board.

Mills said a variety of proposals would be made available, but the one favored by the board was outlined above.

"The one thing we really have to do is raise the $26 million," Mills said. "How we raise it is not as critical. We've got a plan for doing it, but we want to expose that plan to public scrutiny and see how people respond to it."

The most recent toll increase was in 2009.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Dennis Dorey's picture

North of Augusta

With this latest increase in southern Maine tolls, prompts me to ask why only southern Maine? Nothern Maine rides the highways above Augusta free!
Alternative roads to the turnpike are in terrible repair, example Route 100 between Auburn and Gray!!!!!

Why? Fairness alone makes this question important. Sothern Maine supplies most of the sales tax, gas taxes and saves the state tens of millions of dollars on roads.
What does Nothern Maine contribute for 95 north?

Rather than raise Turnpike rates, make all of the states north / south highways a toll road. Share the responsibility of Maine's roads among all Mainers.

Robert McQueeney's picture

How to fund the turnpike?

I think a lot of people are missing a point here. The turnpike repair, maintenance and improvement all have to be funded somehow. Everyone is saying don't raise the tolls, but they will still want a certain level of quality. If tolls are not raised to cover the additional expenses, is anyone offering suggestions as to how they would prefer to see it funded?

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

My suggestion

I'd start by using turnpike tolls to fund the turnpike ONLY. Then they might not need so much of an increase.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Turnpike tolls

Claire,

95% of Turnpike tolls go directly into the operation and maintenance of the Turnpike. The other 5% is used for projects in which the Turnpike collaborates with MaineDOT.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Reality check

I'm rarely against raising money to improve services but that's not what's going on here. First of all the only decent road to get to Lewiston-Auburn is the turnpike. While Portland, Brunswick, Bangor, Waterville and Freeport get free roads our economy depends directly on the turnpike for visitors to our festivals, restaurants, malls and for truck deliveries.. It is also the only well maintained road in the state. While they are making noises about this increase going to debt reduction and future improvements the truth is that they passed a new policy last year allowing them to use turnpike fees to fund other roads. Not only are the toll users going to see their funds improving all the other roads but driving up the costs of using the pike will cause people to avoid using it. The result of that will be negative impact to businesses in the Lewiston-Auburn area and less money for turnpike maintenance. So the only decent road in this state will look more and more like the other pot hole filled, traffic snarling, car jarring backwoods lanes we have all over Maine. It's a tax aimed at a small group to benefit others. Almost makes you miss Paul Violette.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

The 26% increase

The 26% increase coincidentally results in about $26 million more a year. As stated above, the bill passed in 2011 by the legislature allocates 5% of operating revenues to MaineDOT. The Turnpike took in just over $101 million in 2011. Even with 5% going to MaineDOT there will be millions more available for the present and future need to operate and maintain the current safety and quality of the Maine Turnpike for years to come.

 's picture

Official length of turnpike?

Where does the turnpike end? I believe the signs state 295 ends at about mile 102 and then it becomes 95. Is this still the turnpike or is it now a federally funded and repaired roadway?

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

The Turnpike runs from mile 2

The Turnpike runs from mile 2 in Kittery up to Exit 109 in Augusta. It also includes the two-mile Falmouth Spur at exit 52. The Tunrpike has received no federal or state funds since it's construction and opening in 1947.

 's picture

About 110 miles or so

I took a ride to Augusta today and asked the toll taker at mile 102 when the turnpike ended. He said just before Augusta. So, you take in about $101 million a year and that isn't enough to keep a 110 miles of completed highway up to date and running smoothly. If you can't manage on that sum of money, perhaps you should turn it over to the feds and let them incorporate it into the US highway system. There are thousands of miles of non-toll interstate highways in this country that are fairing just fine.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

The Tunrpike received $101

The Tunrpike received $101 million from tolls in 2011 and is anticipating the same in 2012. The total operating expenses in 2012 will be about $37.6 million. The rest is made up of paying back debt, actual construction costs and the mandated 5% obligated for joint DOT projects. The Turnpike is responsible for 109 miles of highway, 176 bridges, 19 interchanges, 19 toll plazas, a state police unit, 5 service areas and 9 maintenance facilities.

The Turnpike is now 65 years old and is in the middle of a 30-year plan to reconstruct and rehabilitate most of it. Many portions of the Interstate system (including I-295) are now more than 50 years old. Because of the age of the system and the declining role of the federal government in continuing to pay for it, state DOTs , including Maine's, are close to confronting huge costs to rebuild the system. Toll roads preceded the Eisenhower national system. The federal gas tax funded the interstate system up to 90% when constructed. Today, the average federal share of reconstruction and rehabilitation of interstates is about 45 percent. it will cost several times more to rebuild a system that cost. Latest calculations show it cost about $129 billion to complete the interstate sytem over 30-35 years. Of that, $114 billion came from the federal government.

The fuel tax, at both the federal and state level, will not be sustainable over the long-term partly due to increased fuel efficiency and a lack of action at the federal level to allocate funding. The last federal transportation bill (funding) expired in 2009.

Thanks for your comments,
Dan Morin
Public Relations
Maine Turnpike Authority

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Take everything into account...

People need to examine the whole impact something like these ridiculous toll increases will have. I read someone say, if you don't use it, you don't pay. Sorry, everyone of us use the turnpike every day, with out ever leaving home.
No one thinks about costs, which will be passed along to everyone, when tolls increase. If a company has two hundred trucks, which quite a few Maine companies have, and those trucks run the length of the turnpike twice daily, just one company will spend thousands of dollars a day. Walmart, Shaws, Hanafords, just to name a few. These companies don't care, because they won't be paying the whole increase, you will. Businesses will just pass along the cost increase to everyone who buys their products. Every time you buy anything, it arrives by truck. These companies are there to make a profit.
I'm just a little bit curious as to why it took several years after the fact, to realize they couldn't afford a project that size, I really doubt, someone just forgot that they had to pay for all that work. Maybe when the former head of the turnpike authority gets out of jail, he can explain the short fall. Until then we need to pay. It was a project that needed to be done.
The next time you pick up a can of soup at the store, and wonder out loud why this costs so much. Remember, your paying fuel, tolls, and maintenance, for thousands of trucks. Its just another unseen cost of living.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Frank, The costs of the

Frank,

The costs of the widening, for example, were indeed understood at the time. The bond-repayment terms and agreement were structured in a way that interest only would be paid for a number of years during construction and after the completion. Substantial principal payments were structured to be paid between 2014 and 2018 which is a major factor necessary for toll increases.

In addition, you are correct, 85% of all products entering and leaving the state do so via the Maine Turnpike. Businesses of all size certainly realize how the safety, speed and high quality of the Maine Turnpike also is a positive contribution to the health of their bottom line. While tolls are certainly a concern for small and large business owners that depend on the Turnpike for the movement of goods and services, the Turnpike has worked closely for years with the commercial truck industry to ensure the Maine Turnpike continues to be one of the least expensive toll roads in the country for commercial trucking.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Thank you for the explanation...

You are correct, the Maine Turnpike is not only the best maintained road in Maine. It also ranks at the top, in my opinion, in the north east. Twenty plus years of driving a tractor trailer in every conceivable weather condition known to man. I can appreciate the work that goes into keeping the road clear and free of potholes and defects found on other roads. I also know that maintenance is not cheap.
Thank you for the explanation of how these projects are financed. I understand the need for toll increases, However, living in the Lewiston Auburn area, we kind of get the short end of the stick. Under the new fares as I see them, it will cost one dollar and fifty cents more for someone to go from Auburn to York, than someone from Grey. I know this debate has been going on for years, but commuting to Portland from Auburn gets expensive for non frequent users of the turnpike.
Thank's again for your input, I'll keep that in mind the next time I need to get anywhere on the turnpike during a snow storm. Usually the only road I don't mind in bad weather.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Thanks for your comments

Thanks for your comments Frank. Coincidentally, under the proposed toll adjustment structure the southbound on ramp cash toll in Gray will increase 50 cents from $1 to $1.50. Unfortunately, there are certainly some inequities due to the barrier system of tolls implemented a while back which took the place of the ticket system. E-ZPass operates on a per mile basis in a very similar way to the old ticket system. For example, a cash round-trip from L/A to Maine Mall Road in Portland (Exit 45) is $4.50 but $3.75 with E-ZPass (70 miles). Maine Mall Road to Falmouth Exit 52 would be $4.00 round trip for 14 miles but only $1 with E-ZPass.

Robert McQueeney's picture

User fees

Tolls are a perfect example of user fees. If you use it, you pay for it, if you don't use it, you don't pay for it. This increase will cover expected expenses in maintaining and improving the turnpike in years to come, rather than not saving up and just taking a loan out. Obviously, that means it will cost more because there will be interest to pay, and toll increases will come then, larger toll increases.

This is not the kind of government increase that affects everyone in the state. Folks up in Houlton or Fort Kent are not being asked to subsidize a road they will seldom use. Only the people who use the road are paying for it.

I'm not happy about toll increases, but the money goes back into the turnpike, where it should. I use the turnpike, and I want it in good shape. I don't mind paying a little bit for that.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Good points Robert. I might

Good points Robert. I might add that all of the approximate $21 million from gas taxes paid at Turnpike service plazas go to the state for use on statewide transportation projects.

 's picture

I like how the preferred

I like how the preferred options is charging more in the toll booths that are outside of the Greater Portland area. Yet when Lewiston/Auburn want to get another exit or anything the MTA kick and scream. Yeah is it nice that they are FINALLY upgrading and fixing the turnpike in and around L/A, yes. But why are citizens in Lewiston/Auburn getting robbed by paying 75 cents or more north and south of the cities then the Greater Portland area? When Portland have that nice FREE interstate that they can use. Regardless enough is enough with increasing the tolls, Maine citizens only have so much money and it is running out.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

The Turnpike is just

The Turnpike is just finishing a nearly $7 million dollar upgrade to the Washington Street Bridge near Interchange 75 and preparing for a new $20 million+ Lewiston Interchange. Side tolls in the Portland area were increased from 60 cents to $1.00 in 2009 (40%). For example. It now costs $1.00 one-way ($2.00 round-trip) to travel one mile between Exits 46 and 47 and $2.00 ($4.00 round-trip) one-way to travel 4 miles between Exits 48 and 52. With an E-ZPass, L/A travelers can get to and from Portland for $3.75 -- 70 miles round-trip from Lewiston (just over 5 cents a mile).

The Maine Turnpike was built about 30 years prior to I-295. The choice was made in the 1940s to have the first high-speed highway travel through Lewiston-Auburn and was a great benefit to the area. I-295 was not planned, constructed and is not maintained by the Maine Turnpike.

Edward S Phillips 's picture

Taxed enough already

Sell the Targe Mahal the turnpike now ownes. Vast wasted space and ultra deluxe facilities. Need to be reasonable on what we charge. Commercial trucks are being killed by costs from toll roads. Contract out more services and get rid of over compensated employees.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Edward, Staff reductions have

Edward,

Staff reductions have indeed taken place. 300-400 over the past few decades, mostly due to the efficiency of electronic tolling (E-ZPass). Under new Board leadership and oversight by new Executive Director Peter Mills the most recent operating budget was reduced by over 11%; consulting and general legal costs have been reduced or eliminated; many engineering functions have been brought in house and salaries for managers are now comparable to those of other state departments. Mr. Mills' salary is 20% lower than his predecessor and he has eliminated a deputy director position and combined other positions to increase operational efficiency. Policies concerning the procurement of major goods and services are now done through competitive bidding. Travel, dues and the sponsoring of outside organizations have been curtailed and Turnpike financial staff recently refinanced outstanding bonds to the savings of $13.6 million. Peter Mills and I would be happy to speak more in person with you about this at the June 19 meeting at Auburn City Hall.

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