Drivers to see major toll hikes

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Drivers to See Major Toll Hikes
By Dennis Cauchon
USA Today

(Jan. 28) — From the Golden Gate Bridge to the New Jersey Turnpike, the nation’s toll booths are getting dramatically more expensive to drive through.The sharp increases come as states endure financially lean times triggered by the housing and credit crunch and struggle to find money to maintain or replace vital infrastructure.

Big toll hikes are planned for most of the nation’s signature toll roads, bridges and tunnels. The increases would add dollars, not cents, to the cost of passing through many toll booths.

For example, in March, the toll for cars driving on the George Washington Bridge linking New York and New Jersey — the nation’s busiest toll bridge — jumps to $8 from $5 during peak hours. Truckers will pay $35, up from $25.”People view highways as free, but they’re not,” says Patrick Jones, chief executive of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, which represents toll authorities. He says Congress’ decision to keep the federal gas tax at 18.4 cents per gallon, unchanged since 1993, has led to a greater reliance on tolls.

Some major toll hikes planned:

California: The Golden Gate Bridge will raise its toll to $6 from $5 if a board approves after public hearings. Separately, San Francisco is considering a new $2 toll when drivers get off the bridge.

Indiana: The cost of driving all 157 miles of the Indiana Toll Road will rise in April to $8 from $4.65 for those paying cash. The price will not change for those with electronic i-Zoom accounts.

Massachusetts: Rates for the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels in Boston rose to $3.50 from $3 on Jan. 1. The money will help pay for the “Big Dig,” a $14.6 billion downtown Boston highway project that was plagued by cost overruns.

New Jersey: Gov. Jon Corzine wants to increase tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway by 50% every four years, starting in 2010, and add an extra adjustment for inflation.
New York: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will raise tolls on the Holland and Lincoln tunnels and its bridges by $2-$10 per trip on March 2. The state will impose smaller toll increases on nine other New York-area bridges and tunnels on March 16.

Pennsylvania: The state has asked the federal government for permission to add tolls to Interstate 80. The cost of driving the 316-mile road would be $25 for cars and $93 for trucks. The state will increase tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by 25% in 2009, making the cost similar to the proposed I-80 tolls.

“People aren’t thrilled by paying tolls, but that’s no different than any other form of taxation,” says Barry Schoch, a consultant heading Pennsylvania’s effort to put toll booths on I-80, which is now free.

“A toll increase is always political melodrama,” Port Authority spokesman Marc LaVorgna says. “The decisions are often avoided until the need is desperate.”