Motorists heading off on vacation for the Memorial Day weekend might want to pack some extra change.
Tolls are going up fast across the country as states look to raise money for road and mass transit projects. In the past two years, the fees for using more than a third of the nation's pay-as-you-go roads have gone up -- often for the first time in decades.
This year, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which links Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, raised its tolls by 44 percent. In January, the Illinois Tollway raised charges 56 percent. Authorities in New York, California and Virginia have raised their tolls.
"We have a significant transportation finance crisis in this country," said Patrick Jones, executive director of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association in Washington. "If ... politicians and voters are unwilling to increase fuel taxes -- but they still demand good highways -- we're going to need to see other forms of highway finance. More and more governments and agencies are turning to tolling."
That means motorists already facing gas prices that average $2.11 a gallon -- a record for Memorial Day, if it holds -- will also pay more than ever in tolls. The AAA estimates 31 million Americans will drive 50 or more miles this weekend, the traditional start of summer vacationing.
For example, the trip from Baltimore to Manhattan now costs $16.75 in tolls -- $2.50 more than Memorial Day 2003.
Glen Burnie resident Lisa Schofield, who often travels to Manhattan to visit her sister, has noticed.
"Everything seems to have gone up a little bit. When you go to Delaware or someplace up north, it has become super expensive," said Schofield, a dolphin trainer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
"I'm not somebody who carries a lot of money around -- I use a debit card -- so when I drive somewhere I have to get a lot of cash."
Motorists have not passively gone along. In Northern Virginia, where some tolls on the Dulles Toll Road doubled this month, more than 1,600 people have signed up with www.notollincrease.com, which urges motorists to boycott the busy commuter road.
And in Illinois, which nearly tripled tolls for some truckers, officials saw a 7.7 percent drop in the number of trucks using the toll roads in January compared with a year earlier.
Local roads became clogged with trucks avoiding the tolls.
Automakers have even gotten in on the act: Some new cars are equipped with navigational systems that offer to find routes that minimize tolls.
Even more frustrating to some motorists, the toll increases sometimes are used for projects other than the roads, such as mass transit. Virginia raised tolls on the Dulles road to fund an expansion of Metro.
Ken Reid, a leader of www.notollincrease.com, said motorists should not have to pay for services they might never use.
"It doesn't help truckers, it doesn't help buses, cabs," said Reid, a 46-year-old newsletter publisher.
In Illinois, as in many states, the additional money is needed to accommodate a big increase in traffic on roads that were built in the 1950s and 1960s.
When the Illinois Tollway opened in the late 1950s, an average of 66,000 cars used it daily; today, 1.4 million vehicles use it, said Joelle McGinnis, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
"It went from being more of bypass between Wisconsin and Indiana to more of a commuter route ... from suburb to suburb," McGinnis said. "Our roads are at the end of their life span. They need to be rebuilt."
In November 2003, Maryland doubled tolls at the Harbor and Fort McHenry tunnels and the Key Bridge -- the first increases since 1985. The state also raised tolls on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway -- the portion of Interstate 95 between Baltimore and the Delaware line -- and the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, over the Susquehanna River between Cecil and Harford counties.
Cars now pay $2 to use the Fort McHenry and Harbor tunnels and the Key Bridge. They pay $5 to cross the Hatem Bridge and use the JFK.
The Maryland Transportation Authority, which manages the tolls, estimated additional revenue would provide $100 million a year for highway improvements, including an expansion of I-95 and a resurfacing of the Key Bridge.
When it raised the tolls, the MdTA board agreed to consider raising tolls every two years. But no further toll increases are being discussed now, said Robert L. Flanagan, the state transportation secretary and MdTA chairman.
Costly projects could require future increases.
Jones, of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, said many highway authorities can't even afford to maintain current highways.
Federal and state fuel taxes have not kept up with inflation, Jones said.
Robert Bierman, owner of Bierman Trucking Inc. in Essex, reimburses his 15 truckers more than $20,000 a month in tolls. He estimates that's almost three times what he paid for tolls five years ago.
"The customer's paying for it," Bierman said. "It's got to be passed down the line. It's a domino effect."
Industry analyst Peter Samuel said people are more open to price increases these days because of the convenience of electronic tolling, which he estimates is used by 60 percent of drivers who pay tolls.
"If you're forced to wait three, four, five minutes, creeping up just to pay [a toll], your mind gets very focused on the toll," said Samuel, who operates www.tollroadsnews.com out of his Frederick home. "But if you can just zip through with a transponder on the windshield, you might notice the payment on your credit card statement once a month."