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In an effort to avert a large shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, trucks and cars traveling the Maine Turnpike will pay a little bit more in tolls.
The increase is effective Nov. 1.
“Nobody likes a toll increase, especially those who make their living on the roads like our members do,” Brian Parke, president of the 1,600-member Maine Motor Transport Association, told Transport Topics. “But it’s hard to dispute the financial position that the pandemic left the turnpike authority in. And, really to their credit, they’ve done what they could do to minimize the overall increase.”
The actual size of the increase varies on which exits motorists use after getting on the turnpike, and depends on the class of the vehicle. Those motorists and truckers paying with cash will see a slightly higher toll than those travelers using E-ZPass, said Erin Courtney, the authority’s public outreach manager.
With the Maine E-ZPass you’re only paying a per-mile rate, she said.
However, heavy-duty truckers using cash traveling the turnpike will still pay four times more than a car. For instance, the new cash rate for a five-axle truck traveling from the York Toll Plaza all the way to Augusta — the entire length of the turnpike — would increase from $28 to $32, and increase from $32.05 to $36.05 for a six-axle truck.
“We had experienced a decline in revenues due to the pandemic,” Courtney said. “At the same time we also had tightening restrictions on our bonding requirements. So to keep our capital plan moving ahead, we had to do something to raise revenue, and keep our bond rating solid as well to borrow more money we needed.”
Overall, truckers will account for about $6 million of the roughly more than $17 million annual increase in projected revenues, Parke said.
“We understand that this subset of the overall increase will be largely shouldered by nonresident commercial truck traffic,” Parke said in public testimony before the authority board earlier this year. “However, it will nonetheless impact Maine trucking companies and the businesses that rely on trucks to transport their essential freight shipments. In fact, 84% of Maine communities rely exclusively on trucks to move their goods, and much of the 52,650 tons that our members move daily are transported on the turnpike.”
The authority said it receives all its revenue through tolls paid by users of the Maine Turnpike — it does not receive any federal funds or state gas tax revenues.
But turnpike officials said that due to the decrease in traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic, MTA collected $60 million less in revenue than had been projected.
“At this same time during the 2020 pandemic year, MTA invested $106 million in capital projects to help sustain the Maine economy and allow contractors to work safely in reduced traffic to complete projects of major significance to the turnpike and the public,” the authority said in a statement. “MTA has approximately $939 million in major capacity improvements planned over the next 15 years.”
“We value the work done by the MTA to keep the road safe and open to travel in all weather conditions,” Parke testified. “We know and trust that you will continue to recognize the importance of trucking to Maine and its citizens and that you will continually weigh that importance with the decisions that you make now and in the future.”
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