SACO — Maine Turnpike Authority officials, listening to the same stream of opposition to toll increases that they’ve heard at two other meetings this week, had advice for those affected: get an EZ-Pass.

A few dozen people turned out Thursday at Saco City Hall — fewer than the number who attended a meeting Tuesday in Auburn but more than the number who showed up on Wednesday in Portland.

“Do you have an EZ-Pass?” MTA Director Peter Mills asked Rodney Anderson, of Gorham, who opened the meeting by saying the toll system isn’t fair and he doesn’t understand why people have to pay when they enter the turnpike in one spot, but not another.

“I do now because I had to have one,” Anderson shot back. “It was either that or rob a bank.”

“That usually resolves most of the inequity,” Mills said. The EZ-Pass system charges users based on how many miles they travel.

“If you don’t have (an EZ-Pass), I strongly suggest you get one,” said Sen. Ronald Collins, R-Wells, who has been on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee for years and said even he has a hard time comprehending the toll system.

MIlls said more than 60 percent of customers use the EZ-Pass.

But some who spoke Thursday said EZ-Pass users would not be immune under some of the toll hike options under consideration by turnpike officials.

Susan Gallant uses her EZ-Pass every day commuting from Saco to Portland.

“I can’t afford a 20 percent increase. I can’t do it,” she said, of the proposed increase under the option favored by turnpike authority staff.

The Maine Turnpike Authority is considering no fewer than 10 options for raising tolls to generate an additional $26 million in annual revenue to pay for debt service, maintenance and operating expenses.

Those options involve raising tolls in varying amounts at various locations and, in some cases, raising the mileage rate for EZ-Pass customers.

The need for the toll increase is ongoing debt associated with a recent widening project of 30 miles of the turnpike south of Portland but also because revenue projections have leveled off after years of steady increase.

Diane Robbins of Arundel said when the turnpike held public hearings on the last toll increases in 2009, it seemed then that officials had already made up their mind about what to do and she feels it’s the same this time.

“But I think it’s important to come out and speak and be part of the process,” she said.

Tim Doyle spoke on behalf of the Maine Motor Transport Association, a statewide group that lobbies for truckers. He said any increase would have an adverse impact on truckers because many of them, and their companies, operate close to the margins already.

Shawn Moody of Gorham, a local businessman and an independent candidate for governor two years ago, said he thinks the MTA should merge with the Maine Department of Transportation. Others have made that suggestion this week.

Mills said he understands why people might think that’s a good idea, but he’s not convinced. If MDOT absorbed the turnpike, it would add more than $400 million in debt, which would harm the state’s credit rating. And such a merger would not necessarily eliminate the need for a toll increase.

Before Thursday’s public meeting in Saco, turnpike officials announced that they would host two additional sessions in July in York County. The first will be Monday, July 9 at the American Legion Post in York and the second will be Wednesday, July 11 at Wells High School. Both start at 6:30 p.m.


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