A public meeting to discuss increasing the tolls on the state Route 40 Hatem Bridge over the Susquehanna River brought together more than 1,000 residents of Harford and Cecil counties Thursday night to speak out against the toll hike.
Many of those present also protested against the proposal prior to the hearing at Perryville High School, carrying signs outside the building with messages including “Hold the elected accountable,” “Tolls are for trolls” and even one that called for the impeachment of Governor O’Malley.
While many government officials and representatives were present, state Senator Nancy Jacobs was at the forefront of the protest, leading a small crowd in chants of “Who should pay!? No one!”
The atmosphere inside the school was similarly hostile, with members of the crowd shouting out “thieves!” and “cowards!” when members of the Maryland Transportation Authority addressed the audience.
Prior to the public assembly, those attending were given the opportunity to talk to Transportation Authority representatives and were shown a video prior to the public discussion.
Under the current proposal, outlined on Transportation Authority handouts, phase one of the proposed toll increase calls for the Hatem Bridge toll to increase to $6 from $5 by October 1. The current annual decal program will be discontinued and changed over to the E-ZPass program. As a result, the annual fee to cross the bridge will increase to $36 to $10.
Effective July 1, 2013, the toll will increase to $72 from $36, MdTA officials said.
The tunnels and bridges, according to MdTA representatives, don’t receive direct benefits from the transportation trust fund, which is used for state highways. Instead, each acts autonomously with toll profits being put directly back into maintenance and upkeep of toll bridges and tunnels. The state officials said the Hatem Bridge hasn’t seen its toll increased in more than 25 years.
However, many residents who spoke in the public comments portion of the hearing said they felt that the toll increase was unfair to those who needed to cross the Hatem Bridge on a daily basis, describing the proposed toll as “highway robbery.”
More than 115 members of the community signed up to speak at the hearing, which drew far more attendees than any of the others held around the county in recent weeks. According to the Transportation Authority, just 22 people attended a hearing in Montgomery County, and 24 attended a hearing in Baltimore City. The largest hearing until Thursday night’s was held in Queen Anne’s county, and drew more than 600 people.
Representatives of the agency said they expect a hearing scheduled for June 27 at the Havre de Grace Activity Center to draw even more people.