A proposed 26-percent toll hike on the Maine Turnpike may trigger a review by the Legislature’s watchdog agency.

Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, requested an investigation by the Office of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability, or OPEGA, a small agency that conducts special audits and reviews. Craven sits on the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which oversees OPEGA and will consider her request at a meeting Friday in Augusta.

Craven wants the agency to look into what she and others say is an unfair toll burden for residents in western and central Maine. She also wants to know why the Maine Turnpike Authority needs more money now to pay back money it borrowed years ago.

“The reason I made the request was I’ve always felt that we paid a disproportionate share of tolls when we live in Lewistion-Auburn or any of the surrounding areas,” Craven said. And, she said, “I can’t understand why, when the Turnpike did their bonding, the payments weren’t already established.”

Craven was one of about 40 people who criticized the proposed toll increase at a public hearing in Auburn earlier this month. Many argued that they pay higher tolls than residents of southern Maine.

Lewiston-Auburn lawmakers have said they will introduce legislation to correct that inequity in tolls, and some are collecting signatures to pressure the Turnpike Authority to scale back the toll increases.

The proposed toll increases would raise an additional $26 million revenue and are largely needed to keep paying down debt from the widening of 30 miles of the highway in the last decade, according to the turnpike authority. The increase also would help pay for turnpike improvements north of Falmouth and a new $24 million exit in Lewiston, Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills said.

The option preferred by turnpike authority officials would raise the toll from $2 to $3 at York, from $1.75 to $2.50 at New Gloucester, from $1.25 to $2 at West Gardiner, and from $1 to $1.50 at the Wells northbound and Gray southbound tollbooths.

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