AUGUSTA – Drivers on Maine’s interstates could be charged tolls under a pair of proposals that lawmakers are considering, but transportation officials counter that federal law prohibits such a move.

It would take an act of Congress to impose fares on highways that have been built or repaired with federal money, the Transportation Committee was told at a hearing on the bills Friday.

“Federal law is quite clear on the issue,” said Dan Morin of the Maine Turnpike Authority, which took no formal position on the bills sponsored by Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, and Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn.

When any section of I-295 is expanded to three lanes, the entire road would be tolled at a rate commensurate with I-95, the Maine Turnpike that runs through Lewiston and Auburn, Lajoie proposed in an amendment to an earlier bill.

“I-295 is paid for with gas taxes by Mainers all over the state. Interstate 95 is solely supported by its users, my constituents,” leaving them with an unfair burden, Lajoie said. “This bill would create equality between the two highways so drivers taking both will pay their fair share.”

Bolduc’s bill calls for a task force to study options for imposing tolls on portions of Maine’s interstates to pay for highway improvements.

In opposition to both bills, the state Transportation Department cited the federal law prohibiting tolls on highways built or repaired with federal money.

“The federal Highway Administration has informed MaineDOT that they do not have the authority to waive the tolling prohibition,” said Nina Fisher of the state Transportation Department. “Thus, under current law, authority to impose tolls on I-295 would require a specific act of Congress.”

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