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U.S. 15 toll proposal fizzles

Friday - 12/28/2012, 6:00am  ET

ronyoungsenator512.jpg
Ron Young, a state senator in Maryland. (Frederick News-Post)

A well-placed toll on U.S. 15 could help the highway pay for its own upgrades, a Maryland senator from

Frederick

County believes.

Sen. Ron Young has drafted legislation to get the state and federal governments talking about using tolls to fund improvements along U.S. 15. Young, D-District 3, suggested putting a toll near the state's border with Pennsylvania to catch drivers who don't pay Maryland taxes but commute over its roads.

Young said, however, that he's not moving forward with the bill during the 2013 session of the Maryland General Assembly because the idea has gotten a lukewarm reaction from county officials. The proposal came up during a recent meeting between county commissioners and state lawmakers representing Frederick County.

"No one showed any interest in it, so I'm going to pull it," Young said.

Young said he's open to changing the bill to appeal to fellow lawmakers. If this approach is successful, he might submit toll-related legislation at some point this session, he said.

In the bill as drafted, toll revenue would flow toward projects to construct an interchange at U.S. 15 and Monocacy Boulevard and to widen the highway to three lanes in each direction through the city of Frederick, according to the legislation. The bill, which Young filed in advance of the 2013 session of the Maryland General Assembly, would also put toll money toward building interchanges, overpasses and underpasses along U.S. 15 between Monocacy Boulevard and the Pennsylvania border.

The plan would require an agreement between the Maryland Transportation Authority and Federal Highway Administration.

Though there is little money for these projects, local leaders have cringed at the idea of raising the gas tax, Young said. He believed a toll could provide a good alternative, because without a new revenue stream, area road projects will lie dormant for lack of funding.

"You're going to have to pay for it, or you're going to have to live without," Young said.

He plans to submit a bill that would give local jurisdictions the authority to raise their sales tax by up to 2 cents and use the additional money for local road work. However, even if this proposal succeeds, he doubts that Frederick County leaders would take advantage of it.

County Commissioner Paul Smith agrees with Young that money shortages are setting back local transportation projects, but he doesn't believe a toll alone will solve the problem. A lack of federal support is the root issue, and a toll wouldn't generate enough money to overcome it. As things stand, a toll would simply create a new tax without making a significant dent in local transportation needs, Smith said.

In addition, collecting fees along state borders could goad Maryland's neighbors into following suit, he added.

"We'll have a battle of the tolls," Smith said.

Still, Smith acknowledges that raising money from drivers coming into Maryland could act as a supplement if federal funding levels were also increased.

Sen. David Brinkley, R-District 4, also opposes Young's proposal, but for a different reason. He believes that placing a pay station near the Pennsylvania line would have commuters clogging Emmitsburg roads to avoid the highway. He believes it would be more sensible to capture drivers closer to the city of Frederick, where it would be more difficult to circumvent a toll.

However, the idea of tolls is attractive because all the revenue would go to road improvements, he said. The funding system contrasts with the gas tax, some of which goes to mass transit projects, Brinkley argued. He advocates for creating separate funding sources for mass transit to free up more money for road projects.