By Rep. Michel Lajoie
July 18, 2012
The delegation of state legislators from Lewiston and Auburn has been working hard to understand how the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA) could have come up with a toll hike proposal that is so unfair to the working families of western Maine. We have yet to receive a good answer to this question.
My colleagues and I have sent a letter to the MTA expressing our full support of the recent votes by both the Lewiston and Auburn City Councils asking the MTA to please allow more time before taking a vote that could do severe economic damage to our region of the state. More time for a thoughtful analysis of the many possible options is what is needed to make sure anyone can be comfortable with the final decision, whatever it may be.
Having looked at some of the proposals put forth in response to the extreme toll hike on the people of western Maine as proposed by the MTA has made the state delegation think there are fairer options for the people of Maine. Below are some ideas that we support knowing there may be other, even better options that have not been heard, but, given more time and consideration, may make the Maine turnpike toll system fair for all Maine residents.
We support raising the heavily used cash tolls in Falmouth and West Gardiner to go between 95 and 295 from $1 to $2 and to create a $2 toll at the Maine Mall exit as has been proposed by a member of the MTA. This latter exit is currently used by most motorists to go between 295 and 95 explicitly to avoid paying any toll at all.
The cost of a mile of turnpike is the same in Kittery, Auburn and Gardiner. EZ Pass is an easy way to charge the same amount for a mile in each of those cities, and that should begin immediately. There is no reason that EZ Pass rates should continue the gross unfairness of the cash rates, as they currently do.
We support recreating the Commuter Pass Program, or at least for those commuters who use an exit which carries an inequitable EZ Pass rate. This program was the only way that a driver from western Maine could get close the “average” rates on the turnpike.
We believe that a toll should be put up in Scarborough as the system was designed to have or to go back the ticket system. Both of these options more accurately and fairly ask a turnpike user to pay for his or her use of the road, unlike the current proposal which charges users coming to and going from western Maine more to travel a shorter distance.
Other states like Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island are considering a pay-per-mile system. None of those states are like Maine where only some commuters pay two or three times more. Of any state, Maine is the place to start a pay per mile system. The technology exists, existing rates are grossly unfair, and there is no reason to continue that inequity when a pay per mile system could easily fix that.
If you have not yet signed the petition opposing the current toll hike proposal please google Stop the Western Maine Toll Hike to join over 650 people who have already done so. This will be delivered to the MTA.
In the meantime, I, along with at least three of my colleagues (Reps. Bolduc, Carey and Rotundo), have submitted legislation that we hope will make the process that the MTA uses to make such far reaching decisions more transparent, fairer and allow for more public scrutiny through the public officials elected by the people.
Please join us in making your voice heard and in working together to create a toll system that invests in Maine’s public infrastructure without actually disadvantaging a whole region of our state.
Rep. Michel A. Lajoie, D-Lewiston, is serving his second term representing District 71, which is part of Lewiston, in the Maine State Legislature. He can be reached at 783-1927 or Rep. Lajoie