Bridge Toll Increases: Locals Hatem

Proposed increase in tolls and changes to toll collection system at Hatem Bridge draws community ire at Lindy's Restaurant in Perryville.

Highway robbery.

That was a phrase tossed around Monday afternoon at a public meeting alongside the Pulaski Highway in Cecil County, where residents, business owners and politicians gathered to present a unified front against a proposed increase in toll fees and elimination of the popular AVI decal option for toll payment at the Hatem Bridge.

With the toll plaza and the arch of the bridge in view, locals gathered in a parking lot  adjacent to Lindy’s Restaurant to voice their concerns over a change in the toll structure supported by the Maryland Transportation Authority Board. Included in the changes is an increase in an annual fee for motorists seeking to take advantage of a discount program  from the current $10 to  $36 later this year and to $72 in 2013. Critics point out that moroists could incur other new expenses as well.

One Cecil County resident, Amy Sinclair, works at a dental practice with offices in Havre de Grace and Cecil County; her parents live in Harford County, and her siblings live in Cecil County. Her circumstances are similar to many who would have to pay more.

“It affects every person that lives in Cecil County and Harford County. It affects our veterans,” Sinclair said, referencing the veteran health care facility at Perry Point in Cecil County. “These are people who went to fight for us, and what are we doing for them?”

Main issues for locals are a change in the toll rate as well as discontinuing the AVI decal option, which has a $10 annual fee.  Instead of continuing with the bar-code decals, the state transportation authority board wants to use the E-ZPass system.

According to state Sen. Nancy Jacobs new website, HatemTolls.com, the proposal would increase the current Hatem Bridge single-use toll from $5 to $6 in October, and to $8 in 2013. The cost to participate in the new annual E-ZPass program for the Hatem Bridge would be $36 (increasing to $72 in 2013). New E-ZPass users would incur additional costs: $21 for a transponder, a required $25  E-ZPass account deposit and $18 in annual maintenance fees (billed at $1.50 a month).

The Hatem Bridge is not the only toll facility impacted by the transportation authority board's proposal.

Tolls for passenger cars on the Bay Bridge would increase from $2.50 to $5 beginning Oct. 1 and increase to $8 on July 1, 2013.

In addition, the cost for a one-way toll on the Fort McHenry Tunnel, the Harbor Tunnel and the Key Bridge would jump from $2 to $3 on Oct. 1 and to $4 on July 1, 2013.

Other toll increases set for Oct. 1 include the John F. Kennedy Highway, from $5 to $6, and the Harry W. Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland, from $3 to $5.  Those tolls would increase to $8 on July 1, 2013.

Finally, there will also be increases for E-ZPass users and commuters along with a video toll rate for vehicles traveling through a toll plaza without a valid E-ZPass or making cash payment. The video rate would replace the existing $3 notice-of-toll-due fee and would be 25 percent higher than the proposed cash rates.

Jacobs made the opening remarks Monday afternoon followed by about a dozen local politicians and even more residents and business owners. Her comments struck a chord with many, drawing applause.

“We’ve found a court case in Rhode Island where the people sued the toll facility in Rhode Island, and they won, to have cheaper rates for local commuters,” Jacobs said. “They’re telling us at the state, ‘We can’t do this.’ I’ve got the court case that says you can. As a group, if they don’t back down on this, we’re going to be filing suit against the State of Maryland for what they’re doing.”

Public meetings on the toll increases will be held 6 p.m., June 16 at Perryville High School, and on June 27 at the Havre de Grace Activity Center.

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris was among those speaking against the increase on Monday calling  it “a huge issue.” Harris said the state regularly squanders “hundreds of millions of highway dollars each year.”

Del. Michael Smigiel, of Cecil County said the fee increase will help pay for the Inter-County Connector, which he described as an 18-mile, $2.5 billion project in Montgomery County.

“They’re not going to put a toll on the ICC,” he said. “You’re going to pay the toll for the ICC.”

He also addressed a related issue:  central, urban Maryland dictating policies that impact rural Maryland.

“We’re going to hold their feet to the fire. We’re not going to let them push this through,” Smigiel said. “We will not let the urban areas to dictate to the rural areas how we will pay for their mass transit boondoggles.”

Perryville Mayor Jim Eberhardt said: “Where is our hospital facility? Right across the bridge. And most of our medical services. You look at this bridge and you think, ‘Wow, it costs $5 to cross this bridge.’  It costs $2.50 to cross the Bay Bridge. How do you price that commodity? That Bay Bridge is four miles long. Sixty cents a mile? This bridge is 1.4 miles, it costs $5. It’s about $3.75 a mile? How do you price that commodity? We have been paying much more here locally than other parts of the state, and it sounds like we’re going to get it again.”

Until last week, the Hatem Bridge had been undergoing renovations since June 2008.

According to the Maryland Transportation Authority, about 11 million vehicles travel the bridge each year. Northbound motorists pay a toll when traveling from Harford County to Cecil County when they reach the Cecil County side of the bridge. There is no toll southbound.

The toll system on the Tydings Bridge that carries I-95 over the Susquehanna River is set up in similar fashion—only motorists traveling north pay a toll. E-ZPass lanes have been in operation at the Tydings Bridge toll facility for years.

The only other roadway for crossing the Susquehanna River is the Conowingo Dam, which carries one lane of Route 1 across the river in each direction. There are no tolls at the dam.

The increase in tolls that took place on the Hatem Bridge a decade ago caused many businesses to alter their operations. For example, Scott Sewell spoke on behalf of bass fisherman in the state Monday when he said Cecil County tournaments that his organization used to sponsor and participate in have been skipped in favor of those located on the other side of the toll facility.

The Hatem Bridge was supposed to be free for Harford and Cecil County residents after its initial construction was paid for, according to many accounts Monday. Harford County Executive and local historian David Craig referenced the sale of a train/automobile hybrid bridge in 1906.

“In 1940, when they opened the Hatem Bridge, they said, once it’s paid for, it will be free to people from Cecil and Harford County,” Craig said. “Seventy-one years later, we’re still waiting for them to come to that promise.”

The Havre de Grace politician opened with a quip to his neighbors to the east, saying Cecil County residents must feel special: “You’re the only people who have to pay to get into or out of your county in the state of Maryland. And that has to change.”

After citing the $4 toll on southbound I-95 at the Maryland-Delaware border, Jim Mullin, president of Cecil County’s Board of Commissioners, spoke to the isolation Cecil County residents feel. With the increase in fees, he said that isolation would only continue.

Mullin said, “Pretty soon we become one big island out here.”

Amazed June 22, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Yes, it’s easy, when it doesn’t affect you, to say someone should move or change jobs to avoid a toll the MTA has to multiply by 9 because it needs funds to build stuff all over Maryland. No, it doesn't "break my bank", but it is a little thing called "principle". The Hatem Bridge was built decades before the MTA even existed and has been paid for many times over by GENERATIONS of Harford and Cecil county residents for more than 70 years… I think it’s understandable that locals want the MTA to get their hands off “our” bridge and out of our pockets. Few commuters would complain about paying to maintain the bridge. Again, I grow weary of saying it, but, that is NOT what this is about. This is a money grab designed to kill AVI and force people onto EZ-Pass so the milking can begin. JUST the immediate change over to EZ-Pass will reap millions for MTA and the yearly income generated (forever after) will be many times what’s necessary to maintain the bridge. Do the math… 150,000 decals in use, if only 100,000 of them switch MTA will bring in 8.2 million vs. 1 million for new decals… by 2013, 9 million per year and it’ll only go up from there. They have this carefully planned out.
Tom Somerset June 22, 2011 at 08:50 PM
I expect this is so much extra noise for most people in HdG that complain about how the downtown ought to be busier and at the same time say outloud in front of others that they "dont go over there" meaning Cecil County. A solid business plan was a point made in the recent mayorial race. Could anyone have ever imagined that there is a connection between the prosperity of the Perryville Outlets and HdG's downtown both of which are diminished by the Cecil County tolls. Will any hint of the connection motivate any of these people to attend and be angry at the tolls hearing next week or will they just have something more "important" to do? Mayor Wayne was at the Perryville hearing but Im guessing that he and the council members with him were the only HdG residents in attendence. I choked when he and the others in the HdG delegation used the word "community" speaking about HdG AND Perryville or Cecil County. Rhetoric is easier than actions or execution in this case. The "I dont go there" thread passes through this Patch as well. Say there was a non-profit event occuring at Elk Neck State Park in Cecil County and you wanted to post it on the Patch community board to share with the community that is HdG/Harford County and Perryville/Cecil County. You enter your information and the last step before posting the item is to do a search of state parks and all the state parks that come up in the search are in Harford County. Try it yourself. Thanks Patch!
betty coakley June 22, 2011 at 08:59 PM
How sad!! We have a situation where people will not be able to afford to commute to work, where families will not be able to visit relatives, where veterans will have to figure out transportation to Perry Point, where 'highway robbery' will be taking place with tazpayers money, and where the decisions will be made by people who are unaccountable to the taxpayers, and one person says find another job, and another person says change political parties. This same kind of thing happened under a different administration. (Remember Chuck from Aberdeen) And try to find a job when Maryland is at the bottom in jobs available Let's just pull together, overturn the unfair taxation, and put an end to decision making by unaccountable people. With true effort by all the people who are our reps, we can do it.
Fred Cullum June 23, 2011 at 01:07 AM
I don't believe that is the case as when I went over at 4:45 PM I had to actually remain sitting in the toll booth until the light at Akin Ave. changed to turn onto 222. Once we moved the traffic was bumper to bumper all the way to Perryville High School. I think there were a lot of people from Harford County in attendance. The Hatem Bridge is not just some bridge over a body of water along some interstate highway, it is a bridge that connects families and communities. I look at the toll on the Hatem Bridge as being the same thing as the Berlin Wall, only they are building the wall higher instead of tearing it down.
Tom Barnes June 30, 2011 at 03:04 PM
I don't see the precious Republicans trying to push through legislation to stop it. So they are just as guilty as the precious Democrats who are sitting back on their butts. They are all lazy in my eyes and only interested in campaigning during these town meetings. Hopefully there will be enough smart people who will vote them all out and vote in people that actually work towards building our communities, supporting our state Constitution, representing their constituents and not big business or relgious leaders (or whoever will pad their campaign pockets, as well as working to reduce taxes & tolls. NEITHER party represents our citizenry anymore. The truth hurts - but it's time we as citizens STOPPED the Dem vs. Repub crap and called them ALL out on the carpet for failing us; for failing our state, our citizens and trouncing on our Constitution for the sake of power.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »