During public hearings Wednesday, the Ontario Trucking Association spoke out against a proposed 85 percent increase in per axle tolls on the U.S. side of the Blue Water Bridge between Port Huron, Mich., and Sarnia, Ontario
. The Michigan Department of Transportation has proposed a plan to boost the current toll rate of $1.75 per axle to $3.25 per axle. The increase would be effective Jan. 5, 2010.

While MDOT said it has the lowest tolls of any of the major bridges and has not increased tolls for 13 years, OTA believes this would cost trucks an additional $8 million. The MDOT also needs to pay for improvements to the U.S. plaza and a future re-decking.

"An 85 percent increase in one fell swoop, especially during these fragile economic times, is unreasonable and cannot be absorbed by carriers who operate under contracts with their shippers," said David Bradley, OTA president.

MDOT also wants to bring the tolls on the U.S. side in line with those on the Canadian side, but Bradley explained that tolls at other bridges, including the Canadian side of the Blue Water, had been raised gradually over many years. Bradley urged MDOT to withdraw its proposal or to at least provide a minimum six-month notice so that the industry can plan for the change.

In addition, he suggested that carriers using the automatic pre-paid account system should get a discount on the tolls. The MDOT proposal did not include this element.

The hearings, which were held in Lansing, Mich., were the first of three to be held this week. MDOT also told OTA that it had been receiving written comment from carriers.

Industry members can submit their thoughts on the MDOT proposal to Robert Parsons at parsonsb@michigan.gov.