SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- When Peter Mills took over as executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, he did so as the agency was mired in controversy surrounding spending. Now, a year and a half later, Mills says the agency has brought its budget under control, but a variety of factors out of their control has lead them to raise tolls substantially come November 1st.
"No one could be less pleased with the prospect of raising tolls in the middle of this recession than I am," stated Mills. "We had to do it at this point. We didn't have any choice. We went and explained this to the legislature last session."
Mills says the MTA needs to raise tolls to the tune of about $20 million a year, to pay for ongoing maintenance, replace aging bridges and pay off debt incurred during major construction projects, like the $160 million widening project on the southern section of the highway from two to three lanes.
"That was paid for, in part, by tolls that were raised then, but it was also partly paid for out of debt, bonds that are falling due, some of them are falling due in the next 5 years," he explained.
He says traffic on the turnpike has dropped back to levels seen in 2004 because of the economy.
"Lower traffic, because of the recession, is certainly a factor in determining the amount of the toll increase. No doubt about it."
Mills says the MTA has cut its budget, reducing its legal costs and advertising budget, laying off workers and not replacing others who leave their positions. He estimates the 2013 budget will be 10% less than it was in previous years, and is hoping to cut another 4 or 5% in 2014.
Still, he says the toll increase is necessary to keep the MTA on the right track.
"We are raising tolls on freight. We are raising tolls on commuters. We are raising tolls on people with pick-up trucks, delivery trucks, practically everybody. Everybody really, is getting hit with this."
"The good news is, it doesn't look like we'll need another toll increase for many, many, many years to come."