Lewiston-Auburn legislators are united in their opposition the Maine Turnpike Authority’s proposal to increase its tolls, which would dramatically hike rates for residents of Western Maine.
At a public meeting Tuesday in Auburn Hall, a long stream of legislators and residents railed against the proposed toll hikes to MTA Director Peter Mills and members of the Turnpike board.
The MTA rolled out its plan on June 1, which is estimated to generate an additional $26 million per year to help maintain and rehabilitate bridges, interchanges and pavement on the toll road, as well as help pay down existing debt.
The cash rate for tolls at West Gardiner and New Gloucester would increase from $1.75 to $2.50. The toll at York would jump from $2 to $3. Tolls for commercial trucks would also increase. Some residents of Western Maine could pay as much as $7 round trip to get to work each day.
“The Legislature has spent the last two years trying to help struggling families get back on their feet by lowering taxes, health insurance costs and reining in uncontrolled spending,” Senator Lois Snowe-Mello (R-Androscoggin County) said on Monday. “I question the wisdom of the MTA raising tolls when people are having a difficult time filling their gas tanks and keeping pace with rising costs for basic necessities.”
“Economic recovery depends on the ability of people and goods to travel freely,” Snowe-Mello said. “I want to make sure that the MTA explores all possible cost containment options before it considers toll increases. We are too close to the recent scandal regarding the misuse of taxpayer toll money to take any of their proposals at face value without asking tough questions. People need to turn out tomorrow to express their views and ask questions.”
“Based on analysis that I have seen, this takes current inequities in the toll system that discriminate against the Lewiston-Auburn area and makes them even worse,” Snowe-Mello said. “I want to learn firsthand if this is true and what their rationale is.”
L-A’s Democratic state lawmakers have launched a petition and said they plan to submit legislation to stop the proposed toll hike on the Maine Turnpike.
“The toll hike unfairly impacts working people in Western Maine,” said Rep. Mike Carey (D-Lewiston) on Friday. “A laborer from Auburn who works on Cousins Island shouldn’t have to pay seven dollars a day to drive less than 30 miles to work. It’s outrageous that western Maine travelers are being asked to pay even more to go the same distance as those in southern Maine. It’s unfair and wrong.”
The petition calls on the Maine Turnpike Authority to halt the hike. It asks for any toll increase to be considered by the full legislature in January. To sign the petition, go to: http://signon.org/sign/stop-the-western-maine?source=c.em.cp&r_by=481675?.
The Democrats plan to submit several bills for the next legislative session in January to ensure that the cost of maintaining Maine’s roads and bridges are shared fairly among all Maine people not just those living and working in Western Maine section of the state.
Rep. Peggy Rotundo (D-Lewiston) said she would submit a bill to ensure any toll increase was first considered by the legislature.
“It’s not right to put the entire burden on people in western Maine,” Rotundo said on Friday. “No toll increase should occur without a fair legislative review.”
Rep. Mike Lajoie (D-Lewiston) said he would file a “Good-For-the-Goose-Good-for-The-Gander Act” to equalize toll taxes between I-295 and I-95.
“Whether a Maine driver pays his fair share for road maintenance should not depend upon his address,” said Lajoie.
Rep. Brian Bolduc (D-Auburn) planned to submit a bill that would study the impact of higher tolls on workers, business and economic development in Western Maine.
Senator Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) made a request for the government oversight body to review the Turnpike Authority’s proposal.
“Given the past problems with the Turnpike Authority and the level of inefficiency we discovered, I am very surprised that any increase is being called for,” Craven said on Friday. “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.”
Carey also submitted legislation to abolish the Maine Turnpike Authority and consolidate it under the State’s Department of Transportation.
The full chart of proposed toll increases can be found at: www.maineturnpike.com/MaineTurnpike/media/PDF/Toll-Increase-Option-7-Class-1-Cash.pdf.