As proposed toll increases on Maryland’s highways, bridges and tunnels are being considered, the Maryland Tourism Council (MTC) has been very active in warning about possible unintended consequences of these increases.
Below is a brief summary of points presented by MTC Chair Sandy Turner and MTC President/CEO David Reel at recent public hearings on this issue.
Tourism creates and sustains huge numbers of jobs and taxes in Maryland. According to reports from Global Insights, tourism supports jobs for more than 134,000 Marylanders and generates $1.6 billion in state and local taxes. Tourism is and has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal economy. Despite an economic downturn that has lasted far longer and run much deeper than ever expected, tourists are still coming to Maryland to stay in our fine lodging establishments, eat in our great restaurants and most importantly have a wonderful time at a wide range of attractions that we hope will bring them back again and again.
At MTC we understand the need to generate money from tolls to pay for bonded indebtedness and to maintain aging infrastructure. MTC is not opposed to any toll increase. We are deeply concerned about unintended consequences from the magnitude of the proposed toll increases.
All the data we have seen on a toll increase projects significantly more revenues. Those projected revenue increases assume no decline in vehicles using the highways, bridges and tunnels. This is a very dangerous assumption.
As great as Maryland is as a tourist destination the fact is that tourists everywhere are increasingly sensitive to travel costs. They can and they likely will chose other tourism destinations if the tolls are too high.
We need to be to be very careful about raising tolls to the point where the net result is such diminished traffic that we experience much less toll revenue than expected, further deferred maintenance and a significant drop in the jobs and tax revenue generated from tourism.
The bottom line message we have been advancing on behalf of MTC is that we understand the need for some increases, but the proposed increases are simply too much at this time.
Accordingly we have urged the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) to work out a new incremental toll increase plan that is more fair and also meets current and long term needs.
We understand that the Authority is likely to make a final decision sometime in August. While some observers feel the decision has already been made, we believe in the timeless wisdom of Yogi Berra who once said “It ain’t over until it’s over.” That is why we aggressively pursued presenting our both our concerns and our suggestions at the public hearings. Whatever decision is made, one thing is certain. Tthe Maryland Tourism Council was proactive, aggressive and offered constructive criticisms on behalf of the tourism industry in Maryland. Regardless of the outcome on this particular issue, we will continue to do so.