The Maine Turnpike Authority, operator of a primary travel corridor through southern Maine, is proposing toll increases that would raise $26.5 million to meet its present and long-term financial needs.

The Maine Turnpike is essential to commercial traffic and also attracts a significant number of recreational travelers during the summer months. Vacationers heading to Maine’s coast this summer, however, would miss the proposed toll hikes, slated to start in November.

The MTA has released 10 possible toll-adjustment scenarios, but noted that its seventh option is preferred. Under the preferred proposal, cash tolls at York toll booths would increase to $3 from $2. At New Gloucester, they would increase to $2.50 from $1.75, and at West Gardiner they would rise to $2 from $1.25.

The Turnpike extends 109 miles from the New Hampshire-Maine border northward to Augusta. There are four mainline and 15 ramp toll plazas along it. For fiscal 2010, the average toll rate was $1.47.

Maine Sen. Ron Collins, R-York County, said the Turnpike is a vital transportation link and expressed concerns about a toll increase.

“Commuters are barely able to keep up with filling their tanks and now the authority wants to add to that burden by increasing the tolls they pay,” he said in a statement. “I want to make sure that the MTA explores all possible options of containing costs before it considers toll increases.”

The agency said it has taken steps to better manage operating costs, including staff reductions and changes in procurement practices. Most recently, it reduced operating costs by over 11% in its last budget and reduced debt service payments by $13.6 million by refinancing debt.

During the next five years, the MTA plans to spend $113 million for bridge repairs and rehabilitation and $82 million for Turnpike paving and interchange improvements. It will also apply $192 million to debt service between 2013 and 2017.

The authority is rated at the double-A-minus level by Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. All three assign stable outlooks.

The agencies cite the Turnpike’s strong debt-service coverage ratio as a result of its ability to implement periodic and timely toll hikes. The last adjustment occurred in early 2009 and increased tolls by 23%.

The authority will hold three public meetings on the toll proposals next week in Auburn, Portland and Saco.

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