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State Pushes No Cash Tolls at Cecil County’s Hatem Bridge, Fines for non-EZ Pass Drivers; Del. Rudolph to Push Law to Keep Cash Tolls

December 3, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

The long battle royale over boosted tolls at the Hatem Bridge that links Cecil County to the rest of Maryland has taken on a new twist: the state wants to eliminate cash toll payment lanes and force motorists to use electronic EZ Pay transponders—or face a $12 fee, including a $4 penalty over the current $8 cash toll.

But Del. David Rudolph (D-35) said Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation in the General Assembly to stop the state proposal in its tracks.

Deborah Sharpless, deputy Executive Secretary of the Maryland Transportation Authority, told the Cecil County Council on Tuesday that the state wants to eliminate the toll booths at the Route 40 span that links Cecil and Harford Counties as a cost-saving measure that would also improve traffic flow over the bridge. She justified the proposal by saying that 91 percent of the motorists now using the bridge pay tolls by EZ Pass electronic transponders.

In 2011, the MTA proposed elimination of a traditional $10 a year decal for unlimited trips over the bridge and initially insisted upon a mandatory EZ Pass transponder plan that would have forced Cecil County residents to pay $36 a year, plus $1.50 a month to maintain an online credit-card financed account, plus a $25 fee to purchase a transponder. After an outpouring of citizen and elected officials’ protests, the MTA modified the plan to provide a free Hatem-only transponder until 1/31/13, with the annual toll fee raised last summer to $20 but with no monthly account maintenance fee.

As part of that plan, cash tolls were boosted from $5 to $8 per round-trip, effective 7/1/13. But now, Sharpless said, the state wants to eliminate the cash option and if a motorist does not have an EZ Pass, a camera would record the license tag and the motorist would be billed $12—with escalating penalties for non-payment within a month, leading to possible suspension of a car’s state registration.

“How can you justify” a 50 percent differential between the current cash toll and a punitive surcharge added to non-EZ Pay using motorists, County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) asked. “This is going to be a big deal for our citizens, because we rely on that bridge.” Hodge also pointed out that the surcharge, and the surprise factor when motorists get a whopping $12 bill in the mail for a visit to Cecil County, would be a major deterrent to tourism and business development in the county.

“I think it’s a rip-off,” Hodge said.

Sharpless said state law provided for a 50 percent surcharge on video-captured vehicle license plates of cars traveling through toll booths without paying a toll or displaying an EZ Pass as a way to discourage scofflaws who try to evade tolls.

But Hodge said the new proposal treats everyone as scofflaws when in fact people might be more than willing to pay the $8 cash toll, but the new proposal “eliminates their choice” to pay cash and instead slaps motorists with a fine on top of the basic toll.

“There’s little incentive to come into Cecil County,” Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) said of the proposal. “It’s exorbitant, it’s ridiculous.”

Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) pointed out that the Hatem bridge, which is largely a local inter-county corridor between Cecil and Harford counties, already carries a significantly higher toll than the longer and more costly to operate Bay Bridge, which currently has a $6 round trip cash toll. The state is not proposing elimination of a cash toll option on the Bay Bridge, or other major bridges in the state except for the local Hatem Bridge.

And to add insult to injury, Sharpless told the Council that the state planned to close the “stop-in center” at the Hatem Bridge, where local residents can pay cash to buy a transponder under a Hatem Bridge-only discount plan. Instead, local residents would have to travel on Interstate 95 to an administration building to deal with EZ pass purchases.

Del. Rudolph told the Council that he is drafting legislation to mandate a cash toll lane for the Hatem Bridge and urged the Council and County Executive to put such a proposal on their priority list to the full legislative delegation to Annapolis for action in the 2014 General Assembly.

The MTA proposal to eliminate a cash toll lane on the Hatem bridge “will have a significant impact on Cecil County and Harford County,” Rudolph said, adding that the mayors of towns on both sides of the bridge have already protested that the proposal would be a serious impediment to efforts to promote regional tourism and business development.

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15 Responses to State Pushes No Cash Tolls at Cecil County’s Hatem Bridge, Fines for non-EZ Pass Drivers; Del. Rudolph to Push Law to Keep Cash Tolls

  1. Ron Lobos on December 3, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    If I’m not mistaken, every Federal Reserve Note (dollar bill) that is printed has the words “This Note is Legal Tender for All Debts, Public and Private.” It doesn’t say Some Debts, it says All Debts. Is it within the power of the state to change the wording on our printed currency?

    It’s bad enough that both commerce and individuals must pay to come into Cecil County at both ends of the Interstate, now we will be penalized for using cash. I ask you one question: would Governor O’Malley stand for this type of treatment if it were imposed upon Baltimore City, Prince Georges County or Montgomery County? I don’t think so. He might even stoop to say that imposing this type of restriction would be a type of prejudice against the poor.

  2. BobbyG on December 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Typical way that our liberal government has continued to screw the common folk. Hatem Bridge doubles the normal toll that you see on all bridges and tunnel tolls in MD, NJ & PA. Yes, lets screw the more conservative counties. Beware little community of Darlington. Travelling around this Rte 40 or I95 $8.00 toll only bothers me another 20 minutes. Hey all drivers, follow me.

  3. Michele Rossi on December 3, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    I find it amazing, in 2013, that we still have toll roads PERIOD. There’s no other technology or way to handle this? If we had laws that made all new vehicles carry some sort of tracking device– couldn’t we eventually just switch over to all digital toll assessment? I mean– come on– or put trolls back under bridges– cause that’s the era this is in.

    • DerrickW on December 5, 2013 at 1:14 am

      Personally I’d much rather not have a government tracking device on my car. Talk about being watched by big brother.

    • Ron Lobos on December 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Michele, I’d like to take this one step further. If you would like them to track you, I am all for this. As for me, I don’t feel comfortable with the government tracking me or anyone else. It just seems to lend to that feeling of Nazi Germany when they kept inventory of the Jews. We already have the IRS denying certain tax status to groups that are not in complete alignment with the current administration. We have the NSA tracking citizens on facebook and with drones. We have them forcing Affordable Health Care on us without any consideration as to whether we want it or can afford it. I just long for the day when I can have my privacy back.

  4. Diane W on December 4, 2013 at 9:14 am

    What concerns me more than the toll is the appearance that none of the County Council and employees were aware that this was being discussed, and the surcharges planned, at the state level. What has happened to the days of networking with your peers to keep ahead of the game. Don’t you think if the county government was doing its job that this would/could have been hashed out prior to this appalling decision dumped on Cecil county residents without prior local involvement. Crisis after crisis = poor management. They spend more time putting out fires than actually doing the job they were hired/elected to do…

    • BJ on December 5, 2013 at 12:26 am

      Diane, your criticism assumes that information was even available. Also, don’t forget we live in a state where criticism of State policies = being punished. Remember the hundreds of irate residents on both sides of the Susquehanna who turned out at those public meetings on the toll increases? No wonder the state doesn’t want us to know!

  5. Joe C on December 7, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    I would suggest that dissolving the police force that roams well beyond the shadows of the bridge and the maintenance department would save enough money to remove the tolls from the bridge. Furthermore, there be a huge savings from not putting in this new technology which probably will not work any better than the Obamacare website!

  6. William F Bryant Jr on December 12, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Get rid of the tolls entirely, the police who patrol it, the buildings attached to the bridge.

    Have the Perryville and Havre de Grace police force patrol the bridge.

    • Stupid Intolerant on December 12, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      We can’t do that! The Tricycle of evil (PG county, Montgomery County and Baltimore City) needs our money. Pay no mind that the wealthiest counties in the nation surround D.C. Gee I wonder how they got that way.

    • Joe C on December 13, 2013 at 4:39 pm

      Mr. Bryant I totally agree! The question is, would Dave Rudolph support dissolving the of a big government operation, doubtful!

  7. Meg H on January 17, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Newsflash – the toll money that the state is raking out of us at the expense of our local community and economy has almost nothing to do with the cost of maintaining the Hatem bridge itself. I’d love to see more news coverage that highlights this fact!

    We shouldn’t have to come up with other ways to cut our community’s cost (police, buildings, etc). The tolls at this point are funding the massive debt service that the MdTA took out (without legislature approval) to fund the ICC. I myself didn’t believe it until I did my research – go ahead and google for the “MdTA Operating Budget Analysis.” The 2011 document goes so far as to point out that “increased reliance on debt to fund construction with result in significantly higher debt service payments, with a MASSIVE increase from a low of $25M in 2007 to about $165 million in 2020.”

    Mandatory EZPass is just the first step. Those toll amounts will also be doubling within the next few years.

    Our local community is being literally decimated to pay for INTEREST ON MDTA DEBT FOR THE ICC. The Hatem operating budget isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to that! No significant toll is needed to maintain the Hatem itself. Go ahead, read it for yourself, do the math. And prepare to get even more unhappy with the MdTA and our governor (since the MdTA is under his direct authority) when you do.

  8. John Smith on January 17, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    I am against all tolls; regardless if cash, electronic or any other means. It’s a waste of time, energy and damages the environment from the pollution put out. I suggest the entire country just raise the gas by 10 cent per gal as income to fix bridges, roads, etc.

    • Stupid Intolerant on January 18, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      Dear Mr. Smith,The state collects enough money in fuel taxes to pave our roads with gold…before they raised fuel taxes 24 cents per gallon.It’s not about roads,it’s about Montgy and P.G.counties and Balto. city.

  9. Michael W. Dawson on January 18, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    In 1971, the State of Maryland spun off eight of the state’s bridges and tolls from the oversight of State Highway and created the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA). The MdTA is an “enterprise fund” which is designed to raise revenue to be self-sustaining in its administration, maintenance and growth across the State within the whole of the MdTA.

    The MdTA has the sole, independent authority to set whatever rates it wants and collect those tolls by whatever means it chooses. Cecil County government has no jurisdiction or authority in this, nor does the county receive any return on the tolls collected. In fact, Cecil County is disproportionately and negatively affected by the decisions of the MdTA.

    I say this because it is vitally important to know the facts: your REAL opposition is in the structurally untouchable and unaccountable MdTA.

    Please don’t take out your anger over higher tolls on Cecil’s businesses. In fact, I would ask that each one of us make a conscience decision to patronize Cecil businesses to help offset the broader negative impact of these tolls assessed on our visitors from other parts of the State.

    The equipment previously used by MdTA to read the AVI decals at the Hatem was old technology – the manufacturer was long out of business and repair parts hard to find and expensive. I can’t blame the MdTA for the EZ Pass, but it will take continued pressure from Cecil & Harford Co. to keep them from thieving rural MD to fund their highway projects in suburban DC.

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