From the office of Del. Mary-Dulany James:
As I am sure you know, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA), the body charged with constructing, managing, repairing and financing all tolling facilities around the State, recently proposed substantial toll increases. The MdTA was created in 1971 to construct, manage, operate and improve the State’s toll facilities, as well as to finance new revenue-producing transportation projects. By all accounts the MdTA gets high marks for how our toll facilities are operated and maintained. After extensive consideration, at a meeting on June 2, 2011, the MdTA announced that it is proposing increased tolls at all of the bridges, tunnels and roads under its jurisdictions including our own Hatem Bridge. Please follow this link to see details of the proposed increases: http://www.mdta.maryland.gov/Toll_Increase/Toll_Increases_by_Facility.html.
As you all know, the Hatem Bridge has always been treated differently than the other toll facilities because of how vital it is to local communities that surround it. In many ways Cecil and Harford are sister counties and much of our business and social lives occur on both sides of the Susquehanna River. Living in Havre de Grace, I travel to Cecil just as often as I travel to Aberdeen, sometimes crossing the Hatem several times a day. For many of us, the Route 40 corridor is all just one neighborhood and should be seen that way by the State.
So, it came as a major surprise, and an unwelcome one, that the MdTA has proposed that the Hatem Bridge crossing will go from $10 per year to $36 this year, and then increase again to $72 in 2013.
MdTA is also recommending that the current AVI sticker be eliminated and replaced with E-ZPass. Now, given the advancements in technology and the established E-ZPass program, this maybe makes sense. But, to obtain as E-ZPass, you have to buy the transponder at a cost of $21 per unit, and incur a $1.50 monthly charge. So, the first year cost to cross the Hatem will be about $75. I think this is unacceptable.
I am working hard with Delegate Dave Rudolph and Secretary of Transportation Beverly Swaim-Staley to find a compromise solution that will preserve the AVI sticker, and keep the toll for locals at $10. Yesterday I sent the below letter to Secretary Staley and the MdTA board in opposition to these toll increases. I will continue to fight against them, and appreciate your support in doing so.
I hope everyone who wanted took advantage of the public hearings that MdTA hosted. I also suggest sending direct comments for the official record by visiting www.mdta.maryland.gov, or writing before August 1, 2011 to: MdTA Toll Comment, 2310 Broening Highway, Baltimore, MD, 21224. Please feel free to contact my office or MdTA with any questions you might have.
July 7, 2011
Beverley K. Swaim-Staley
Secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation
2310 Broening Highway, Suite 150
Baltimore, MD 21224
Re: Proposed Toll Increases
Dear Secretary Swaim-Staley,
I have enjoyed working with you over the past couple of years, and have immense respect for the work of the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA). From my perspective, as well as from others around the state and nationally, the MdTA, enjoys a strong reputation for fulfilling its mission of developing, maintaining and managing Maryland’s tolling facilitates.
I want to thank for hosting the Public Hearings over the past month, in particular the June 16th hearing in Perryville, and the June 27th hearing in Havre de Grace. I know my constituents appreciated the opportunities to have their concerns heard. Turnout was so strong at these events because people in Harford and Cecil counties form a single tight-knit community that straddles the Susquehanna River. I have lived my entire life on my family farm right outside of Havre de Grace, the first town next to the Hatem Bridge on the Harford County side. I can tell you it is simply a way of life for nearly everyone in my area, from Elkton to Edgewood, to go back and forth over the Hatem. In most instances, people cross the Hatem Bridge out of necessity, not convenience. Particularly in the case of Cecil residents, our hope is that they will travel south into Harford or the neighboring counties for their needs, instead of into Delaware or other states.
As we have discussed several times over the past weeks, along with Delegate Dave Rudolph, I was distressed by the recent recommendation of the MdTA to dramatically increase the costs for traveling over the Hatem Bridge. I appreciate your having said in our conversations, and in public, that the MdTA is still very much in the preliminary stages of decision making, particularly with regard to the Hatem Bridge. Your continued confirmation of the importance of the public comment period is essential, along with your responsiveness to local and state elected officials proposing alternatives such as the one I am working on with Delegate Rudolph.
As you will recall, under the prior administration, a significant task force was established to help guide activities while the Hatem Bridge underwent repairs and upgrades. Delegate Rudolph and I were part of that task force. Important to both of us was that our constituents continue to enjoy an affordable toll to cross the bridge. Indeed, serious consideration was given to completely removing a toll from the Hatem Bridge. The reason this was not done was that prior local and state delegations arrived at the consensus that the unintended consequence would be that non-local travelers would then use the bridge to avoid the tolls on the JFK/I-95 bridge.
Nonetheless, Delegate Rudolph and I, as well as many other members of the task force, fully expected that once the reconstruction of the Hatem Bridge was completed, serious, thoughtful discussions would occur with the local elected officials and other local stakeholders, to come up with a tolling system that, while integrating the new technology afforded by the E-ZPass, would also reflect the reality that the Hatem Bridge is quite different from other tolling facilities in the State. I have no doubt that there are drivers from outside the state that use this crossing and that people from Cecil and Harford counties do not generate all the traffic on the bridge. However, the Hatem Bridge is very much a local link between deeply connected communities that rely on it to cross the Susquehanna River.
I hope you and the entire MdTA board can appreciate what I am saying. It is simply unacceptable to stop treating the crossing of this community bridge differently than the other tolling facilitates. The cost simply cannot go from $10 per year for unlimited crossing to $36, then $72, with the first year costing in the neighborhood of $75 because of the bridge fee ($36), transponder fee ($21), and monthly maintenance fees ($18). I hope that to the maximum possible there be an in-state discount on the Hatem Bridge. I fully support Delegate Rudolph’s proposal to keep the in-state toll at $10, and charge significantly higher for out-of-state users. The increased out-of-state revenue, along with reasonable cost cutting measures, should make up the difference in the desired revenue. Such cost cutting should include a 10 percent reduction in the operating costs for the Hatem Bridge, elimination of the non-revenue transponder program as proposed by the Department of Legislative Services, decrease of the E-ZPass truck discount programs as proposed by the MdTA, and for the Authority Police to police I-95.
While a statewide E-ZPass has advantages, maintaining the AVI decal for the Hatem Bridge can still be a complimentary program. I suggest only allowing in-state residents to qualify for the AVI decal, and continue its sale at the local office near the bridge. This way, not only will MdTA be recognizing the needs of the local communities in the upper most part of the bay, but also it will discourage abuse from non-locals.
There seems to be strong judicial support for allowing the MdTA to create a discount program for in-state commuters to cross the Hatem Bridge along the lines of what Delegate Rudolph and I propose. In the recent Cohen v. Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (D. R.I. April 7, 2011), the United States District Court of Rhode Island made clear that various rulings by the Supreme Court allowed for differing tolls for in-state and out-of-state residents and that such differences do not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution so long as the toll is based on a fair approximation of the use of the facilities, is not excessive in relation to the benefits conferred and does not discriminate against interstate commerce noting that differentiation does not equal discrimination. I have requested that your office review Cohen along with the Supreme Court cases cited therein and to let me know if you agree that an in-state discount toll for the Hatem Bridge does not run afoul of the Commerce Clause.
Again, I greatly appreciate your continued willingness to meet with me, as we did last week. I agree that you, Delegate Rudolph, and I should keep in close communication to forge a responsible solution respectful of the needs of Cecil and Harford Counties. I look forward to our continued work toward that end.
Harford & Cecil Counties