Bob Stone has been solid as, well, a rock in advocating for the fee-weary motorists of Lewiston and Auburn in their fight against the inequitable toll costs we pay to travel the Maine Turnpike.
We applaud his efforts, knowing that his is a minority voice on the Maine Turnpike Authority board.
His commitment to fairness is real and his advocacy is a refreshing change from past local representatives.
A couple of months ago, when MTA Executive Director Peter Mills announced that the MTA board would be forced to raise tolls at all three turnpike toll barriers to pay down debt, Stone didn’t roll over and take the board’s financial handout as the basis for his vote. He crunched his own numbers, literally doing his own homework, and put together an alternate plan to address debt in a more equitable way.
The original MTA plan to raise tolls at the New Gloucester and Gardiner barriers, but not at any of the on-ramps sprinkled south of New Gloucester, disproportionately burdens Lewiston-Auburn commuters and gives — very nearly — a free pass to Portland-area commuters.
Stone recognized the unfairness of that, and lobbied his fellow MTA board members to reduce those increases, which — in the end — they did.
Now, instead of a 75-cent increase in New Gloucester, we’ll be paying 50 cents more. It’s more than we like, and probably more than we should, but it would have been worse without Stone’s dogged intervention.
At the MTA board meeting on Thursday he passionately argued that the toll increases for commercial trucks at the northerly barriers were particularly troubling and he could not support any plan to raise commercial tolls without evaluating what long-term effect that might have on our economy. With 85 percent of all products coming into Maine on trucks, the cost of increased tolls will most certainly be passed along to consumers.
Despite Stone’s pointed warning, the commercial increases were approved in a preliminary vote.
So, no matter where you live or what you may personally pay in tolls, look for your groceries and other staples of life to be more expensive as trucking companies attempt to manage delivery costs.
The board will meet again on the 16th to ratify Thursday’s vote, to cement the increased toll rates and move toward paying down $21 million in debt.
Thursday’s vote was not binding, and Mills has made it clear that a final decision doesn’t have to be made until November, so there’s still time to step back, take a breath and debate a plan that doesn’t set disproportionate fees on travelers from New Gloucester north.
Rock on, Mr. Stone.
There’s more work to do.
Sun Journal, Lewiston (Aug. 4)