If passed, the bill would dissolve the Maine Turnpike Authority, and hand over control of the highway to the Maine Department of Transportation.
The MTA would have ten years to transfer all of its duties to MDOT, as well as pay off all of its bonds, according to MTA executive director Peter Mills.
“Somebody’s got to maintain this road, and somebody’s got to pay to maintain this road, and it’s costly," said Mills. “What he’s proposing is not impossible for the state to do. It’s just that the State has to think very deeply about how it would find the money to support this road if it didn’t have the toll revenue.”
Mills said people from out of state pay two-thirds of the highways tolls, and that the trucking industry pays another significant portion. The MTA uses 100 percent of that revenue for its operating costs.
Representative Ellie Espling, who presented the bill, says those answers will likely come at a public hearing for the bill. She said Mainers are being "doubly charged" – with taxes for the highway fund, and through tolls.
"I think he's putting forward something that's bold and will start a worthwhile discussion," said Espling.
Mills said if the bill passes, it would have an immediate impact on Mainers: the MTA would have to raise tolls 25 percent (which can be as much as $1.00 in some areas) in order to pay off all of its bonds in ten years.
Mills said raising the gas tax is one likely solution to make up for the lost toll revenue, but he said that the state would have to raise the gas tax from 30 cents up to 40 cents just to maintain the highway.
"That would not pay for any bonds, any capital costs, or any expenses," said Mills.
The Maine Turnpike is 70 years old and Mills said almost every inch of it has been replaced at some point, using the toll revenue for the construction and maintenance projects. Mills said the highway sees about 80 million travelers each year.
It is still unclear what would happen to the majority of the MTA jobs. Toll workers, in many cases, could lose their jobs, but many other employees, such as construction workers or plow drivers, could possibly be absorbed into the MDOT.
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