AUBURN — Twin Cities Democrats say a proposed turnpike toll hike falls too heavily on Western Maine, and they're calling for more legislative oversight over future Maine Turnpike Authority toll proposals.
"It’s outrageous that western Maine travelers are being asked to pay even more to go the same distance as those in southern Maine," said Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, in a written statement. "It’s unfair and wrong."
The Maine Turnpike Authority has set a public review of the proposal, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, in Auburn Hall. The Sun Journal will present a live Webcast of the meeting on sunjournal.com, as well as a live blog.
"We have to have a huge local turnout at that meeting," said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said Thursday. "We are trying now to educate people about the critical impact this has on Lewiston-Auburn and Western Maine."
Lewiston-Auburn's legislative delegates began passing a petition Thursday to stop the proposed toll increase now and put future discussions on the state Legislature's agenda in January.
They also are proposing a range of new legislation that would study the effect of tolls on Western Maine economic development, equalize maintenance costs between Interstate 95, the Maine Turnpike and Interstate 295, the toll-free road through Portland and the mid-coast.
Meanwhile, Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald and Auburn Mayor Jonathan LaBonte have scheduled a Friday afternoon news conference to decry the increase and urge residents to attend the authority's meeting in Auburn.
The turnpike authority's current proposal calls for toll increases for the highway's main barrier tolls and a restructuring of rates for E-ZPass holders and commuter discount programs.
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. Tolls for commercial trucks would increase as well.
The Maine Turnpike's most recent toll increase was in 2009.
The increases, expected to bring in an estimated $26 million a year for the Maine Turnpike, is needed to make debt payments on reconstruction bonds coming due between 2014 and 2019.
“The proposed increase seems to be excessive and improperly arranged so that it will have a serious detrimental effect on the workers from western Maine who commute along the Turnpike and on economic development in western Maine in general," said Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Androscoggin.
In addition to the Auburn meeting, the authority is hosting meetings in Portland on June 20 and in Saco on June 21. All three meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m.