The Maine Turnpike Authority plans to increase toll prices this fall, in part to overcome a $60 million revenue shortfall blamed on last year’s pandemic-related traffic slump.

Proposed changes include a $1 increase – from $3 to $4 – for drivers paying cash at the York toll plaza, increases in per-mile charges for E-ZPass holders and a reduction of discounts for frequent commuters.

Traffic has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but a toll increase is needed to keep the agency’s construction plan on track, Maine Turnpike Authority Director Peter Mills said in a news release Monday.

“(The) loss of revenue during the pandemic, combined with new bonding constraints, make it infeasible to complete future capital plans without raising tolls or adjusting discounts,” Mills said.

The turnpike authority board decided that putting off construction projects “would cause greater harm than to adjust tolls upward to sustain them,” he added.

Envisioned toll changes would earn the turnpike about $18 million extra a year, it said. The turnpike’s budget relies exclusively on tolls because it does not receive state or federal taxpayer funding.

In 2019, motorists paid almost $140 million in tolls to the turnpike. The next year, traffic decreased drastically as the coronavirus pandemic made its way to Maine and the state enacted a shelter-in-place order and travel restrictions. Highway travel remained low for most of 2020, and the turnpike collected $115 million in tolls – $60 million less than it had projected.

The turnpike authority spent $106 million from its reserves to keep construction projects going even as it lost money, the release said.

Revenue losses coincided with new rules from bond rating agencies that require more stringent levels of operating revenue to secure the types of bond the turnpike authority uses to pay for capital projects, such as the new York tollbooth complex and an extensive highway widening in the Portland area.

The agency has about $939 million of highway projects planned over the next 15 years, including the Portland widening, and interchange improvements in Biddeford, Saco and Wells.

Prices at the York toll plaza, the state’s busiest, would increase by $1 to $4 for passenger cars, and there would be similar increases for larger vehicles. Even though the turnpike authority estimates out-of-state motorists would pay 71 percent of the toll increases, local commuters would be charged the higher rates, too.

The toll cost for holders of E-ZPass electronic transponders would go up from 7.7 cents a mile to 8 cents a mile. Bulk discounts would decrease, too. E-ZPass users who make 30 or more trips a month would have their discount reduced from 25 percent to 20 percent. Drivers who make more than 40 trips a month would get a 40 percent discount, instead of the current 50 percent.

Turnpike authority officials plan to enact the changes at the beginning of November. The agency is planning three public meetings next month to outline the changes and accept public comment.

The meetings will be held Aug. 3 at the turnpike maintenance building in York, Aug. 4 at the Ramada Inn in Saco, and Aug. 5 at the Ramada Inn in Lewiston. All the meetings are at 6 pm. Members of the public also can submit comments online at maineturnpike.com/2021tolls.aspx.

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