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January 26, 2007     Cape Gazette
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January 26, 2007

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CAPE GAZETTE - Friday, January 26 - MOnday, Jdnuary'29 -2007 - 15 DelDOT wants fee increasesto-boost Transportation Trust By Ron MacArthur Cape Gazette staff In an effort to heal the ailing Delaware Transportation Trust Fund, state officials are proposing sweeping changes within the Delaware Department of Transportation. The trust fund, fueled by fees such as tolls and vehicle registra- tion, is the main source of income for the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT). Gov. Ruth Ann Minner laid out a plan Thursday, Jan. 25, before members of the Delaware General Assembly to further reduce the department's budget shortfall. The plan was part of the governor's proposed fiscal 2008 budget pre- sented to Delaware's governing body. Over the past year, the $2.7 bil- lion shortfall has been reduced to $1.5 billion, and th_e proposed changes should eliminate the entire shortfall within six years, said Jennifer Davis, director of the office of management and budget, during a press brief'rag prior to the governor's speech. The foundation of the gover- nor's plan to get DelDOT back on track is a plan to generate new revenue - $78.5 million in the first year, 2007-08, and $t 17 million in the second year. The governor is asking for a 5- cent increase in the motor fuel tax, from 23 cents to 28 cents, and a two-year phased-in increase of 1.75 percent in vehicle documen- tation fees, which is the tax paid when vehicles are sold. Mike Jackson, director of budg- et development, planning, and administration, said raising those two fees alone would generate $60 million in one year. Also proposed is a 50 percent increase in vehicle registration fees, averaging about $10 for most vehicles. Increasing those fees is expected to raise about $13 million in new revenue, Jackson said. For the first time since the road opened in 1993, the governor is asking for toll increases on Route 1. Increases for most vehicles would be 25 cents at South Smyrna, 50 cents at Denney's Road and Boyd's Corner, and $1 for all vehicle classes at the Dover DelDOT wants to increase fees, tolls Proposed fee increases and changes include: Motor fuel tax: gas - 23 cents to 28 cents; diesel - 22 cents to 27 cents. Documentation fee (over two years): 2.75% to 4.5%. Vehicle registration (cars): $20 to $30. Other vehicles aver- age increase of $10. Tolls on Route 1:25 cents to $1. Eliminate E-Z Pass discounts. Under, the new fee schedule; a person driving a car or light truck on Route 1 from the Cape Region to Wilmington would pay $4 in tolls, compared to $2, or $1.70 with E-Z Pass, under the current fee schedule. and Biddle's Corner toll facilities. The increases would become effective Sept. 1, 2008. An increase in tolls could generate as much as $27 million annually, officials estimate. In addition, a recommendation is being made to eliminate all cur- rent E-Z Pass discounts as well as the elimination of the commercial E;Z Pass discount on 1-95 between I0 p.m. and 6 a.m. Officials estimate eliminating the discounts will generate an addi- tional $9 million. Most of the increases, if approved by the General Assembly, would become effec- tive Sept. l, 2007. Transportation officials are also pushing for the passage of open container legislation, which would allow the state to be eligible for $14 million in federal funding for construction projects over the next six years. And, Secretary of Transportation Carolann Wicks said the privatization of 1-95 is being studied. "We are looking at the pros and cons of the idea," sho said. "However, there seems to be no support for this taking place on Route 1." In addition, there seems to be no support for removing n0ncapital expenses from the trust fund and placing them in the general fund, said Davis. . The idea of restructuring the DelDOT funding mechanism has been debated in the General Assembly. "Raising fees is the financially responsible and prudent thing to do," Davis said. "And what cuts would you make to make that [move to general fund] happen? "The General Assembly created the trust fund with specific user fees. The trust fund is a user-fee system. Nobody likes revenue increases, but the time has come to raise some of those fees," Davis said. Davis said a reauthorization of all DelDOT projects, made in con- junction with members of the General Assembly, cost contain- ment within the department, max- imizing federal funding, more focus on the core business of DelDOT, and a drop in interest rates in money the department borrows helped to cut $1.2 billion from the projected six-year short- fall. 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