Broening Highway truck tolls in Maryland, explained

November 2, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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The Maryland Transportation Authority has answers to questions regarding truckers being tolled on the Francis Scott Key Bridge toll facility at Broening Highway despite never crossing the bridge. One answer: The toll is not going away.

During its Oct. 28 meeting, the Maryland Transportation Authority board was briefed on a report about trucks traversing the Francis Scott Key Bridge without actually crossing the bridge. Specifically, truckers are being tolled crossing Bear Creek using Broening Highway. That route does not cross the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Consequently, many truckers who frequently cross Bear Creek, namely port drivers, have complained about the toll. For the most part, truckers are wondering why they are being tolled for the Francis Scott Key Bridge toll facility if they never cross that bridge.

The key word here is toll “facility.”

Although the Francis Scott Key Bridge is only 2miles long, the toll facility is nearly 11 miles long. Another way to look at it is thinking of a toll zone. In addition to the 2 miles of bridge, another 9 miles of roads surrounding the bridge are also tolled, including Broening Highway at Bear Creek.

Broening Highway truck toll discount

Issues regarding the Broening Highway toll were addressed in 2016. The Maryland Motor Truck Association and Maryland Transportation Authority reached a deal to implement a toll rate discount for trucks with three or more axles when crossing Bear Creek using Broening Highway. Trucks receive a $2 discount per axle. Savings range from 25% for three-axle trucks to 60% for trucks with six axles or more, which is an $18 savings.

About $660,000 in truck tolls generated from the Bear Creek crossing at Broening Highway is collected each year. For truck drivers, the aforementioned discount results in nearly $200,000 in savings annually. However, that is only for truckers with a Maryland E-ZPass. Non-Maryland E-ZPass trucks pay about 85% more in tolls for the same number of trips. These numbers indicate a direct benefit to local trucking companies.

Furthermore, trucks with five or more axles with a Maryland E-ZPass are eligible for additional savings through the post-use and supplemental rebate programs. The post-use rebate is account-based and calculated on the dollar amount of tolls paid on a business account per month. There is no limit on the number of transponders that can be assigned to this program. The supplemental rebate is transponder-based and based on the number of times a vehicle travels through toll zones each month.

Francis Scott Key Bridge bondholders are top priority

Why toll Broening Highway? Short answer: The transportation authority owes it to investors.

Toll-free roads within a facility are seen as a credit negative by rating agencies. Consequently, tolling agencies reduce the number of “free movements” as much as possible.

“If the (Maryland Transportation Authority) does not collect tolls, it is depriving bondholders of a property interest in those revenues that were previously collected,” the transportation authority stated in the report.

More than $2 million has been spent on maintenance, repairs and inspections of the Bear Creek portion of the Francis Scott Key Bridge toll zone in just the past five years. Over the next few years, projects ranging from $80 million to $90 million in total costs are required to maintain the section in a state of good repair.

Essentially, the Maryland Transportation Authority is telling truckers that the toll is necessary and here to stay. Educational outreach is being conducted in the form of a PowerPoint presentation to large fleets in the area. That presentation explains the financial benefits of a Maryland E-ZPass in relation to Bear Creek tolls.

Legislation addressing Broening Highway toll

The question as to why the Bear Creek toll exists is brought up to the Maryland Transportation Authority nearly every year, one board member recalls. The state legislature has even stepped in.

Proposed legislation would prohibit the transportation authority from charging a toll if a vehicle goes through one of the tolling zones at a toll plaza adjacent to the Francis Scott Key Bridge but does not cross the bridge. However, no action was taken on that proposal.

SB 422 was introduced in January by Sen. Johnny Ray Salling. The bill would have required the transportation authority to direct “vehicles that do not traverse the bridge into a toll-free lane through the toll plaza or construct a lane bypassing the toll plaza for use by vehicles that do not traverse the bridge.”

That bill died in committee. It would have applied to other toll facilities or zones, including the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, and Susquehanna River Bridge.

Salling introduced a similar bill in 2020 and in previous years.

Earlier this year, Gov. Larry Hogan signed HB 588 into law, the budget bill for fiscal year 2022. The bill requires the Maryland Transportation Authority and Port Administration to file a joint report providing the budget committee with the following information:

  • Projection of tolls paid by truck drivers who do not cross the Francis Scott Key Bridge.
  • Discussion of how other toll authorities deal with similar issues.
  • Options for addressing the complaint of truck drivers that they are paying a bridge toll despite not crossing the bridge.

The state withheld $100,000 from the port’s budget until that report was submitted. LL

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.