Maryland Transportation Authority officials may have been persuaded by the large turnout and impassioned pleas during a series of public hearings earlier this summer in Havre de Grace and Perryville to the point that changes to their proposal for the Hatem Bridge “were likely” and the toll hike expected in October, “would likely be delayed,” according to state Sen. Nancy Jacobs.
The 60-day public comment period on the Maryland Transportation Authority’s tolling proposal closed at 5 p.m. on Monday and MdTA reported that nearly 4,000 citizens and elected officials had submitted comments or provided testimony at one of the 10 public hearings held throughout the state.
The MdTA board members have been reviewing the comments and will be making adjustments over the next several weeks to the tolling plan proposed on June 2. Based on public feedback, the Board is re-examining and further discussing at a minimum the following items:
– Size of the toll increases, especially those proposed for July 1, 2013.
– Commuter toll rates.
– Impact on drivers of recreational vehicles/trailers.
– Impact on trucking companies.
– Replacement of the Hatem Bridge AVI decal.
– Size of the new E-ZPass Maryland discount.
– The monthly $1.50 E-ZPass account charge that has been effective since July 2009.
A summary report on the public-comment period will be released in later this month and the MdTA Board expects to vote on a final tolling plan later this summer.
Jacobs, who represents south-eastern Harford and south-western Cecil counties, met recently with the state transportation leaders and learned that delays, and quite likely changes, are on the way in regard to the Hatem Bridge toll proposal and plan.
“I met with Beverly Swaim-Staley, the Secretary of Transportation and Randy Brown, the Acting Secy of MdTA last Tuesday. At that meeting they said the Transportation Authority Board Members were to meet for the first time since the public hearings on Thursday to discuss what to do and whether to change their original proposal. They also said they believed the board members were very influenced by the big turnout in Havre de Grace and Perryville and the testimony given. They added that changes to their proposal for the Hatem were likely. As a result they said it would definitely take a bit longer to make those alterations and the toll hike expected in October, would likely be delayed.
Jacobs said the MdTA Board is adamant about ending the decal program due to “outdated equipment, the safety of toll takers, and to ease their accounting.”
In a letter to the Board last month, Jacobs laid out an alternate plan for Hatem Bridge users that she calls my “EZ Pass version of the Decal”:
Maryland Transportation Authority Board
Beverly Swaim-Staley, Chair
Randy Brown, Acting Executive Secretary
Peter J. Basso
Rev. Dr. William C. Calhoun Sr.
Mary Beyer Halsey
Louise P. Hoblitzell
Richard Mike Lewin
A. Bradley Mims
Walter E. Woodford Jr. P.E.
July 5, 2011
Dear MdTA Board Members,
As a Senator representing Cecil and Harford counties, I want to make it clear that I am opposed to the end of the AVI Decal System for the Hatem Bridge.
You heard during public testimony the Hatem Bridge divides two closely linked communities unlike other Maryland toll facilities. You now know many people in the area around Havre de Grace and Perryville are hard pressed financially to handle the current proposed increase and other costs associated with switching to EZ-Pass. It’s been made clear that local people cross the Hatem Bridge multiple times a day for health reasons, children’s school and sports, and work and leisure activities.
Many fear that the Maryland Transportation Authority Board has already made the decision to discontinue that decal program. The MdTA has made public statements regarding the outdated technology of the AVI decals and the safety of toll takers at the Hatem Bridge.
If this is a fait accompli, I then propose a lower tiered Hatem “ONLY” Plan (EZ Pass version of the AVI decals) which offers less benefits but costs citizens the same as the current AVI decal system. Attached find my recommendations for meeting your goals while helping mitigate the pain to local people.
Senator Nancy Jacobs
Offer a lower tier Hatem “ONLY” Unlimited EZ-Pass for those who don’t use other toll facilities (I call this my EZ-Pass version of the AVI sticker)
Hatem “ONLY” Unlimited EZ-Pass
*Charge a $10 fee for the Hatem “ONLY” EZ-Pass Plan during Phase 1 and raise the Hatem plan to $15 in Phase 2.
A. take into consideration that the rate for the decal was recently doubled from $5 to $10
B. keep sales of the Hatem “ONLY” EZ-Pass limited to walk in service at the Hatem Toll facility to discourage out of state abuse.
C. differentiate local users by zip code or county of residence if legally possible
*Exempt Hatem ONLY Plan holders from having to deposit $25
A. local people who choose this lower priced plan won’t be able to use this transponder at other toll facilities where a deposit would normally be required.
B. if someone attempts to use the Hatem ONLY transponder at another toll facility they would be charged the CURRENT video toll rate as a penalty
C. since there would be no trip limit on the Hatem ONLY Plan there would be no need for a deposit OR A MONTHLYSERVICE FEE.
*Offer free transponders to Hatem “ONLY” Plan participants
A. Suggestions on savings to cover this cost are offered below
*Don’t charge Hatem ONLY Plan purchasers an administrative fee of $1.50 a month ($18 per year)
A. unlimited passage with the Hatem “ONLY” Plan won’t result in billable fees (if used at other facilities the current video toll rate covers any administrative costs).
B. there will be no statement or postage necessary for Hatem plan users who don’t use other facilities.
Distinguish between multi-axle vehicles and lower the cost for recreational vehicles and trailers
The current proposal for multi-axle vehicles is unfair to people who pull boats, horse trailers, tow ATVs or antique cars and those who drive campers and recreational vehicles.
I propose that these Marylanders, who may have the same number of axles as a commercial truck be handled differently. First, they are not nearly as heavy as trucks and therefore are not causing as much wear and tear on the toll facilities. They are not commercial vehicles but rather consumer’s spending money, which is a boast to the local economy.
MdTA currently has a program that differentiates between vehicles with the same number of axles. A special rate exists for motorcycles with sidecars or those that tow a very small trailer that is the same rate charged to ordinary motorcycles. A similar system could be used for the recreational vehicles and trailers. If the Attorney General’s office determines that the MdTA can offer benefits to Marylanders alone, limit the program to Maryland residents.
Here is an example as to why the current proposal is unfair. One constituent tells us that the weight of his truck used for bass fishing is 5,000 pounds and his two axle boat and trailer weigh 1,200 pounds. That’s just 6,200 pounds compared with a four axle commercial truck which can weigh up to 65,000 pounds.
For a fisherman from Harford County to compete in a fishing tournament in North East Maryland in Cecil County it will cost $54 in tolls in Phase 1. That fee increases to $72 in Phase 2. This cost is prohibitive for recreational users.
I believe these 3 and 4 axle vehicles should be charged no more than is now charged for two cars. It seems only fair that they should be charged a base rate of no more than $10.80 in Phase 1 and $14.40 in Phase 2.
A number of local small business people have written to me about how they are harmed by the hikes in truck tolls. I hope you will consider ways to mitigate this. I offer an example of just one letter below. Maryland could lose business tax dollars and jobs. Consequently tolls receipts would be less if companies are put out of business.
Craigtown Auto, Inc.
Ralph or Samuel (Randy) Tome
Port Deposit MD 21904
Dear Senator Jacobs,
Thank you for taking the time to return my call today.
We have a small business that is located in Cecil County, about 2 miles from the Hatem bridge toll plaza. We currently have twelve vehicles and will be very hard hit by the toll increases. Not only will this affect us by the increase but we have contracts with companies in Harford County that will no longer bring their trucks to us for repairs because they will have the added cost of the tolls. They will start looking for a garage in Harford County to start doing their truck maintenance.
We currently have eight vehicles that use the AVI decals. Currently, the cost of decals for those vehicles is 80.00 per year. As of 10/1/11, the new cost will be 632.00 per year. That is an increase of 552.00 per year.
As of 7/1/13, the cost will increase to 720.00 per year, for an increase of 640.00 per year.
Currently we use the book of tickets for the 3 and 4 axle trucks. The 3 axle ticket book is for 15 trips through the toll plaza. That is 3.20 per trip. On 10/1/11, the 3 axle truck will increase to 18.00 per trip, an increase of 14.80 per trip. On 7/1/13, the 3 axle truck will increase to 24.00 per trip for a difference of 20.80 per trip. And this is IF we are NOT towing a truck.
For a 4 axle truck, the cost is currently 4.00, with a book of tickets. The 10/1/11 increase will be 27.00 and the 7/1/13 increase will be 36.00 per trip through the toll plaza.
For us to tow a tractor and trailer across the bridge ONE TIME, the cost would be 45.00 as of 10/1/11 and as of 7/1/13, the cost would be 60.00 (Our truck has 3 axles, the tractor has 3 axles but only 2 axles are on the ground and the trailer has 2 axles). The website, to view a chart for 3 – 6+ axle trucks, can be found at http://www.mdta.maryland.gov/Toll_Increase/documents/General_Handout_Final_6-16-11.pdf.
Something else that we all need to remember, when the truckers have to pay more for tolls and fuel, the cost is passed on to the consumer. We may not see it right away but it will funnel down to all of us in groceries, clothing and anything else that is transported by trucks.
In this area, so many dump truck drivers and small businesses have been put out of business because of the cost of tolls and fuel. We hope to avoid this from happening to other area businesses.
Sincerely, Ralph and Samuel Tome
RECOMMENDATION FOR SAVINGS
The cost of offering free EZ-Pass Transponders and the minimal loss of revenue created by a lower tier Hatem ONLY Plan could be covered in a number of ways.
* Courtesy Patrols – costs Maryland taxpayers $2.5 million per year
Why are Maryland taxpayers paying $2.5 million for these courtesy patrols when much of it goes to non-residents for “free gas” when they run out of gas on I-95? Why are we changing flat tires free of charge to non-residents? Why are we not charging to tow the vehicles of non-residents who have broken down on I-95?
My recommendation is to return to the system of using qualified contractors to respond to disabled vehicles on I-95. Continue the previous practice of allowing contractors to charge a capped fee for service.
*MdTA police officers
Consider using attrition to ultimately reduce the number of MdTA officers in the Northeast corridor of Maryland to address complaints of overly aggressive policing. Do not replace retiring officers or those who have transferred to other police agencies.
*Consider postponing or eliminating costly projects (not related to safety issues) not yet contracted which were planned during a better economic climate.
A. Consider a Public Private Partnership (P3) for the Rest Stop renovations with no state contribution
B. Temporarily cut projects related to requiring MdTA buildings to be LEED certified and halt projects to install turf on roofs owned by the MdTA
*Take away free EZ-Passes unless the grantee has direct need for job related purposes.
A. Take away EZ- Pass from the 76 Judges who currently use them free of charge
B. Take away EZ-Pass from any State Car that is not involved in Toll facility business in the field.