Seacoast Online: MTA boss schedules additional public forums on tolls and moreJun 26, 2012
YORK, Maine — Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Peter Mills said he has a lot to discuss with residents of southern York County — in addition to the proposed $1 toll increase — and will be coming to York and Wells in early July.
Mills and other MTA officials will be at the American Legion on Hannaford Drive in York on July 9 and at Wells High School on July 11. Both meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m.
The meetings will be held in addition to meetings this week in Lewiston, Portland and Saco, because Mills said there’s so much interest in the southern tip of the state in MTA matters.
Uppermost in many people’s minds will likely be a proposed toll hike from $2 to $3 at the York toll plaza, effective this November.
The proposed toll increase is greater than the one planned for New Gloucester ($2.50 from $1.75) and for West Gardiner ($2 from $1.25).
State Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, has called the hike unfair to local residents. And she and local law enforcement officials are also concerned about additional traffic exiting at York to head north on Route 1.
Mills said the MTA has to raise $26.5 million to meet its present and long-term obligations. Mills has made a point of saying he has already cut the budget more than 10 percent and will make deeper cuts in fiscal 2014.
The MTA board Thursday voted unanimously to eliminate 24 positions, saving $1.25 million annually. This amount has already been figured into the operating reductions for the proposed toll increase.
Among the reasons the money has to be raised, the MTA has an obligation to contribute to the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge project and to a “sinking fund” to maintain all three bridges over the Piscataqua River.
The MTA board agreed to obligate $28 million to purchase from the state Interstate 95 from the York toll plaza to the New Hampshire town line. This money will be used on the Long Bridge.
“We have a significant role to play in the Sarah Long,” said Mills.
Moreover, the MTA is obligated to put $1 million yearly for 30 years into a “sinking fund” for maintenance of the three bridges.
Finally, Mills is coming to southern York County to talk about the York toll plaza. Four years ago, the MTA announced plans to build a new toll plaza further up the turnpike. As proposed, the MTA planned to take land and in many cases houses for the proposed plaza.
As a result, the town of York and the citizens group Think Again joined forces to prevent the MTA from going ahead.
Last fall, the MTA hired an engineering firm to conduct an independent report on the feasibility of all-electronic tolling in York. Think Again members have long felt AET is possible.
The work on the report, initially supposed to be ready late in 2011, was temporarily suspended while the MTA diverted the same firm to perform more pressing work.
Mills said this week that he intends to have the report ready in time to release prior to the July 9 meeting in York.