‘No Higher Tolls’

 … About 1,000 people protest bridge toll increases at hearing in Perryville …

baltimoresun.com

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

8:31 PM EDT, June 16, 2011

Hundreds of people packed the auditorium, cafeteria and hallways of Perryville High School on Thursday night to make their opposition to proposed Susquehanna River bridges toll increases be heard loud and clear by the Maryland Transportation Authority.

About 120 people had signed up to testify at the public hearing an hour after the start of the public hearing, one of many the MdTA has been holding around the state.

An hour and a half into the meeting, the speakers had only been state and local government officials.

The overflowing crowd, however, which comprised about 1,000 people at its peak, made its views known by its presence alone.

People seated in the auditorium waved signs demanding “No Higher Tolls Hatem Bridge” and cheered and shouted throughout the testimonies of the government speakers.

Outside, signs on vehicles included messages like “MTA = Money Taking [Expletive].”

A smaller rally also took advantage of the crowds to collect signatures for a petition to repeal a state bill that would give tuition breaks to illegal immigrants. That tent also attracted a steady flow of people.

“The only people in the state of Maryland who pay to use I-95 are the good citizens of Cecil County,” Del. David Rudolph, who represents western Cecil, said. “A citizen of Montgomery County can go to work in Baltimore City every single day and not pay a toll and the citizens of Cecil County do, and that is not fair. Right now we are not being treated equally.”

Rudolph said there should be a $10 transportation toll for Maryland residents and a $40 fee for out-of-state drivers.

“It will raise $1.8 million,” he said, adding that he also wants to see the E-Z Pass transponders eliminated and “no free rides to anyone.”

Northern Cecil Del. Stephen Hershey Jr., who also represents parts of the Eastern Shore, said the MdTA proposal will be an economic disaster.

“Future jobs in Cecil County will cease once these tolls are increased,” he said.

Cecil County Commissioner Diana Broomell took a swipe at the hearing venue, where the crowd in the auditorium made it next to impossible to hear from the cafeteria or lobbies.

“For the next event, I hope they pick a good facility that will have good seating and fit everyone,” she said, to another round of applause. “This bridge has been paid for any times over, and we should instead be talking about the increase in the bridge toll.”

The transportation authority has proposed raising tolls on all the state’s toll bridges, highways and tunnels, but the increases being proposed for the Susquehanna bridges on I-95 and Route 40 are particularly harsh for people who travel back and forth across the river as part of their daily living and working routines.

One of the most criticized aspects of the toll increase involves the elimination of the automatic vehicle identification decal, or AVI, for people who frequently cross the Route 40 Hatem Memorial Bridge between Havre de Grace and Perryville.

The Maryland Transportation Authority plans to phase out the AVI decal, which costs $10 annually, with an E-Zpass discounted rate, which would initially be $36 a year starting Oct. 1 and $72 a year effective July 1, 2013.

In addition, motorists who don’t already have an E-Zpass transponder will have to purchase them and pay the E-Zpass administration fee which typically runs about $1.50 monthly.

The basic two-axle vehicle cash toll on the Hatem Bridge and I-95 Tydings Memorial Bridge will increase from $5 to $6 effective Oct. 1 and will increase to $8 effective July 1, 2013. Cash toll is collected northbound only.

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… Remember these same elected officials in their next statewide re-election bids. …

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