Senator responds to column on tolls
State Sen. Nancy Jacobs obviously read this morning's Getting There column in The Sun, in which I contended that the Maryland Transportation Authority's current toll increase proposal was at least fair because it applied to all toll facilities and didn't play favorites.
Jacobs, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, fired off a reply that I am happy to run in this space:
The toll increase proposal for the Hatem Bridge is “Cruel” but it is not “Fair”. You have not done enough research for your column and taken into consideration factors that make a rise in tolls at the Hatem honestly difficult for a number of families there.
The Hatem Bridge divides two communities where there are many low income earners, retirees and Veterans who use Perry Point VA Hospital. They will not just have to come up with 36 dollars the first year of a toll hike as you say, but 100 dollars to first buy in to EZ Pass’ Hatem Plan. Most people we speak with in Cecil County do not own an EZ-Pass now.
My Senate office has received an overwhelming amount of mail from people who say this will be hard to afford. It’s not because they feel “entitled” as you say, but because they honestly don’t have the money. One single mother in North East says she works the night shift across the Hatem Bridge in Aberdeen and cares for a disabled son. She fears eviction if she is forced to give up her job because she can’t afford the expense.
Another retiree from Perryville says she must take care of her elderly brothers and sisters who frequently are admitted to Harford Memorial Hospital over the bridge. She gets teary on the phone talking about barely making it now on Social Security especially without a COLA increase.
At my News Conference last week in Perryville you would have heard from people like this but you didn’t attend.
There are economic issues of concern for Cecil and Harford Counties as well. Fishermen, horse owners, and owners of campers will be charged huge amounts because they have three axles. A Harford County resident who wants to go fishing will have to pay 36 dollars to get to Cecil County waterways for the day and get back home.
The MdTA Board should not lump this group in with commercial trucks. It’s not good for our tourism industry to discourage this recreational activity. The hike will also affect the positive growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground under BRAC and businesses anywhere near the bridge will suffer. You can already see at the Perryville Outlets there are a lot of vacant storefronts since the toll went from $2.50 to 5 dollars.
Senator Nancy Jacobs
Minority Leader (R-Cecil/Harford)
Readers may notice that the senator said nothing to refute the proposition that the toll system needs an infusion of revenue. She is simply arguing that users of one facility, the Hatem Bridge, should get special treatment because they are somehow more disadvantaged than others.
There are low-income people who live in southeastern Baltimore County and work at BWI who depend on the Harbor Tunnel, where tolls would also go up. There are businesses that must use the McHenry Tunnel. Are they no less worthy than the folks up in Harford and Cecil counties? If you look at which facilities have been soaking up the money lately, it's the Hatem Bridge at the top of the list. Meanwhile the McHenry Tunnel is a money-maker.
I admire the way Jacobs and her colleague, Sen. E. J. Pipkin, are representing their constituents. They are more than ready to make the case that the facilities used by their voters deserve a dispensation from the tolls city dwellers must contend with. Baltimore's lawmakers could learn a thing or two from them and push back against proposals to give special treatment to users of the facilities farther from Baltimore.
Jacobs does make a good point about the trailers. The authority ought to come up with a way to distinguish them from full-sized trucks. They should pay a toll that more accurately reflects the wear they put on the facilities.