Legislators target proposed turnpike toll increase

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.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

The Maine Turnpike is

The Maine Turnpike is encouraged by the interest expressed by area leaders. The size of the proposed toll increase is necessary, though the details could certainly change as a result of all three public meetings and comments from Turnpike customers and community leaders. The Turnpike Board & staff is looking forward to the meeting Tuesday at Auburn City Hall (6:30 p.m.) and reviewing all input. It is important to note during these discussions that the Maine Turnpike Authority Board has for years been encouraging Maine users to sign up for E-ZPass. They believe it pronotes equity and fairness by charging on a per-mile basis, similar to the old ticket system. The goals of any new toll structure will be to continue exapnding the use of E-ZPass and to add a volume based discount on top of E-ZPass usage which would offer lower tolls based on how many trips are taken. Hope to see you all Tuesday.

Dan Morin
Public Relations Manager & Legislative Liaison
Maine Turnpike Authority

Michael Hobbs's picture

It's ironic that the changes

It's ironic that the changes would be felt everyone except those in the Greater Portland area. The preferred option is one that involves all toll areas except those who wish to get on it in the Greater Portland area. The simple question is why they are exempt from toll increases? I have followed closely on these boards and all I hear about is why the Lewiston/Auburn area is having millions dumped to restructure our on/off ramps. Question I have for them is why have Lewiston/Auburn been paying their fair share to upgrade their (Greater Portland) stretch of the road and upgrade their ramps when nothing for years had been done to ours? Especially since the majority of those in the Greater Portland region use I-295 to begin with, which as everyone know is free. I commend the mayors and legislators to try to rally the community in support of this inequality between these two regions. Hopefully their words will not fall on deaf ears and citizens will go to this meeting to show their displeasure. This does not only effect the everyday citizen, but has the potential to have a negative effect on the business climite of the area as well.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Thanks Michael. We're looking

Thanks Michael. We're looking forward to all comments on the proposal. The Maine Turnpike Board frequently speaks about the process of equitable tolls. I want to add a few numbers for your use. Of the $101 million in 2011 toll revenue received by the Maine Turnpike for operations and improvements, 72 percent ($73.3 million) came from the York Toll and side tolls (Exits 19 in Wells through Exit 63 in Gray). Thirteen percent came from the New Gloucester Toll; 7 percent from the Gardiner-I-295 toll; and 5% from West Gardiner.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Its all about being fair...

Toll increases are a fact of life. Like everything else, the cost of maintaining equipment, and fuel, rise just the same as for anyone else. Every time the toll increases, we have the same discussion. Ever since the toll collection process was changed the Auburn , Lewiston, and now Sabattus tolls have become the New Gloucester tolls. Unfortunately by eliminating the individual toll booths at each exit, so went the ability to fairly charge users from north of the barrier toll plaza.
The New Gloucester toll plaza may physically be in New Gloucester, but it is in actuality the Auburn Lewiston and Sabattus toll. I am curious as to exactly how they calculate the barrier tolls for Lewiston/Auburn. Is it based on the distance from New Gloucester to Gardiner, or New Gloucester to York. To be fair I feel the barrier toll should have been placed North of Lewiston, not South of Auburn. Auburn Lewiston and Sabattus should be treated the same as every other exit on the turnpike. Isolating three exits and charging them more is totally unacceptable. They are no different than any other exit. To be fair they should to be charged accordingly.

Dan MAINE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY's picture

Great questions Frank. The

Great questions Frank. The current toll structure of the Maine Turnpike is certainly complicated and in some cases inequitable due to the combination of barrier tolls (York, New Gloucester, West Gardiner and Gardiner) and side tolls. It was necessary to keep the side tolls as a result of the failed 4 barrier plan. Four barriers were initially planned for construction although the MTA was not allowed to construct a 22 lane Scarborough barrier just south of Exit 44. It is a very difficult platform on which to assess tolls simplky due to the physicial toll structure of both barriers and side tolls. The E-ZPass goal of charging by the mile and the proposed Volume Discount Program go a long way in promoting consistency and fairness and we hope many cash payers will transition to E-ZPass. The current average cash rate per mile, per trip, on the Maine Turnpike is 12 cents. However, a cash round trip from Lewiston to Maine Mall Road at Exit 45 (70 miles) is $4.50, or 6.4 cents a mile and a cash round trip from Lewiston to Augusta (Exit 109) is $2.50 for 58 miles -- 4.3 cents a mile. Auburn to Exit 45 cash round-trip (60 miles) = 7.5 cents; Auburn to Augusta/109, 68 miles = 3.7 cents per mile

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