Maine Turnpike proposes 25% toll increase for $26m/year extra revenue

June 7, 2012

2012-06-06: Maine Turnpike is proposing an average increase in tolls of about 25% in order to raise annual toll revenue from around $103m to $129m. Under a recommended scenario electronic tolls (E-ZPass) go up 20% and cash tolls close to 50%. Tolls were last increased in February 1 2009.

The toll increases are part of a five year financial plan 2013 to 2017 that requires $192m for debt service, $113m for bridge repairs and rehabilitation, and $82m for Turnpike paving and interchange improvements.

HNTB, the Turnpike's traffic and revenue consultants have presented ten toll hike options all producing about the same $24m to $27m/year needed in the form of a spreadsheet called Toll Building Blocks and Possible Toll Adjustment Scenarios. The 'Building Blocks' are increases in revenue and also show modeling differences based on estimated elasticities that change the volume weightings, so that totals attempt to allow for 'diversions.'

The staff preferred version listed as Option 7 would:

- increase the electronic toll (ET) or E-ZPass charge for cars 20% to 8c/mile from 6.7c/mile now

- increase the minimum ET by 20% or 10c to 60c

- add $1.00 or 50% to the cash car toll at the southern-most mainline plaza at York milepost 7 taking that toll from $2 to $3

- add 75c to the cash car toll at New Gloucester mainline plaza MP67 from $1.75 now to $2.50, 43% more

- add 75c to the $1.25 cash car toll at West Gardiner/I-95 mainline MP100, 60% more

- add 50c at the $1.00 Wells NB/Gray SB side plaza cash car toll

- end a commuter discount program and instead have a volume discount program for all Maine E-ZPass accounts having a 50% discount kick in at 60 trips/month compared to 40/month now under the commuter discount

- the tractor-trailer or Class 5 commercial vehicle 'multiplier' would increase from the present 4.00 to 4.25 or 6.3% (the multiplier' sets the truck E-ZPass toll as a multiple of the car E-ZPass toll)

This option is called Focus on York and Gardiner.

Other options include:

1. Focus on York and trucks, ETC increase less to 7.4c/mile from 6.7c/mile

2. Focus on York and side plazas

3. Focus on trucks with a 25% increase to $5 in the truck multiplier

4. Across the board increases with the ET rate going up 30% from 6.7c/mile to 8.7c/mile and others similar amounts rounded for cash

5. minimal increases at mainline plazas 50c and 25c only but 25% increase in truck multiplier and doubling of minimum toll to $1.00

6. small hit at York but bigger elsewhere

7. described above

8. York and Gardiner focussed on

9. mainline tolls all made $2.50

10. ET rates dropped to 5c/mile from the present 6.7c/mile but York cash doubled to $4.00, big truck multiplier up 25% to $5 (CORRECTION)

The Maine Turnpike is somewhat unusual in that electronic toll (E-ZPass) rates are only applied to Maine accounts. Out-of-state E-ZPass account holders are charged the higher cash tolls (EDITORIAL OPINION: this parochial in-state protectionism and favoritism makes a mockery of the E-ZPass Group, which needs to adopt rules banning such discriminatory pricing. If Maine wants the benefits of E-ZPass interoperability it needs to cease this small-minded disrimination against outsiders - editor.)

Economy measures taken

The Turnpike says it has taken steps to better manage operating costs including staff reductions and changes in procurement practices.

The Turnpike's latest budget reduced operating costs by over 11%.

Debt service payments are down $13.6 million by re?nancings.

Public meetings, feedback sought

Public meetings are scheduled at City Halls 6:30pm: Auburn June 19, Portland  June 20, Saco June 21. A deadline for emailed or mailed comment is July 16.

The staff schedule is to get a board of directors decision at a meeting scheduled for July 19 for the new tolls to go into effect November 1. Three months are need for checking through details and for preparations.

Peter Mills the executive director says the $26m increase in annual revenue is essential but how the higher revenue is obtained - the option chosen - is less important to the Turnpike. The seven person board has signaled a preference and the governor was shown the plan and the options.

The board will make a decision on the proposed increases after digesting public reaction.

No commitment can be made as to how long the rates will last because of uncertainties on traffic and revenue, but the Turnpike will be placed on a firm financial footing to plan improvements.

York's $40m Violette Toll Plaza missing

Notably missing from the improvement plan is the rebuild of toll collection at York - previously a new open road tolling plus cash toll plaza for $40 million that generated such determined resistance in the south of the state that longtime chief executive Paul Violette was ousted.

10 options presented in spreadsheet:

commuter discount plan options:

recommended option:

TOLLROADSnews 2012-06-06 ADDITIONS CORRECTIONS 2012-06-07 14:30

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