The Free State Commentary by Mark Uncapher

Mark Uncapher, President, Montgomery County Republican Club

Mark Uncapher


Mark Uncapher, is serving as President of the Montgomery County Republican Club. Mark is a long-time party activist who previously served as the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.

Maryland Tolls Would Jump Nearly 50% Under Top House Democrat’s Bill

If Korman’s bill passed, each day, over a hundred thousand drivers would pay substantially more in tolls to pay for billions in new debt used to expand service with less than 10,000 passengers per day

Maryland House Democratic Majority Leader Marc Korman has proposed legislation leading to nearly a 50% toll increase on the state’s highways. His legislation would impose a so-called “optimal tolling strategy” that involves setting tolls at—or near— the highest level at which the state could maximize revenue. According to Korman’s own testimony, an extra $250 to $300 million could be wrung from drivers by “optimal tolling” of Maryland’s existing toll facilities. [i]

The current tolling revenues of over $600 million indicate up to a 50% increase. As a result, the “maximized” toll rates would likely increase the Bay Bridge EZ pass toll to $3.75 and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel to $4.50.

Korman has been a longtime member of the legislative Pro-Gridlock Caucus that stalled the use of public-private partnerships to finance road improvements to I-270 and the Capital Beltway.[ii] Among their complaints has been that more money should be spent on public transportation. Yet half of Maryland’s transportation spending goes for mass transit, although cars account for approximately 97% of all travel. Mass transportation zealots try to rationalize this imbalance to motorists by promising that by diverting funds to transit, road congestion will be reduced. However, despite decades of public transit spending, the promised travel “diversion” from public transit has never materialized as transit ridership continues a decades-long decline.

Korman’s bill, HB 74 (with Senate counterpart SB 412) would use the extra revenue to fund a brand new “Maryland Rail Authority.” [iii] The new entity would be similar to the existing Maryland Transportation Authority and have its own ability to sell bonds. The additional toll revenue would be used exclusively to pay the new Rail Authority‘s debt service.

However, unlike the Maryland Transportation Authority, which supports various transportation projects, all the money from Korman’s new “Rail Authority” would be used to fund rail capital spending. This would expand MARC, the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, and the Southern Maryland Rapid Transit System service.

Under Delegate Korman’s bill, toll hikes would only provide rail financing for capital costs and not operating expenses. Transit systems, as a rule, never generate sufficient revenue from passengers to operate and maintain their systems. In fact, transit system farebox income rarely covers even 50% of expenses. Even before COVID struck, Baltimore’s notoriously unprofitable light rail system covered less than 20% of operating expenses from fares. Maryland public transit advocates, including Korman, have campaigned against legal requirements that passenger fares cover as little as 35% of operating costs.[iv]

While MARC’s farebox revenues once approached 50% of operating costs, this was before the more recent 75% ridership drop.[v] The MARC system has struggled since the onset of COVID. The rail system’s average ridership was 9,100 per weekday as of the third quarter of 2022. The most recent ridership remains less than a quarter of the pre-pandemic daily ridership of 40,000 per weekday.[vi]

The disparity in numbers is striking. Seventy-five thousand vehicles use the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel daily. Another sixty-one thousand vehicle transit the Bay Bridge daily.[vii] [viii]

If Korman’s bill passed, each day, over a hundred thousand drivers would pay substantially more in tolls to pay for billions in new debt used to expand service with less than 10,000 passengers per day.