Jul 29, 2014
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Hundreds Oppose Toll Hikes at Public Hearing

The Perryville High School hearing lasted more than six hours.

Hundreds Oppose Toll Hikes at Public Hearing Hundreds Oppose Toll Hikes at Public Hearing

8:45 p.m.: Hundreds of residents from Harford and Cecil counties joined many of their elected officials at a public hearing Thursday to express their opposition to the state's plan to increase tolls at the Hatem Bridge.

While the meeting continues into the night, here's a sampling of what people had to tell the state officials about the multi-tiered increase proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration.

8:36 p.m.: Cecil County resident Robin Glick Baum quoted a , drawing applause from the crowd for statements in that story by Harford County Executive David Craig.

Her husband teaches in Catonsville, and her family's dentists and doctors are on the other side of the bridge.

8:29 p.m.: Sandy Turner is the coordinator of tourism in Cecil County.

"Higher tolls will discourage visitors from traveling to Cecil," she said. "It will hurt our restaurants, attractions, shops, golf courses and events."

Turner said perception is everything, and that tolling visitors on their way into a locale sends a poor message. She suggested moving the I-95 tolls closer to Delaware.

8:26 p.m.: Chris Jones said he moved to Cecil County a few years ago. He said the tolls in Baltimore can be avoided easily.

"To come to Cecil County, you have to pay that toll. You can go on the Conowingo Dam, but that can't handle the traffic," Jones said. "Also, you guys approved this, without having the hearings first."

8:22 p.m.: Jackie Broomell, who lives in Colora, explains that her daughter, who has a rare cancerous tumor, and her daughter's three children live in Colora with her.

"I have not been able to work for the last four years because I've been home with my daughter and her children," she said. "One of my things I can do with my daughter and her children is put them in the car, take them across the bridge to Havre de Grace to the Promenade."

8:19 p.m.: Paula Gilley, a lifelong resident of Cecil County, spoke on behalf of 500 members of the Cecil County Board of Realtors.

"It is as if there is a barracade that says, 'Do Not Enter,' to those who don't live here," she said. "Consider the economic impact. ... We only got 18 percent of the BRAC people, and most of them are renting because they are trying to decide if they want to live here."

Gilley said the residents of the neighboring counties "have well earned the free use of this bridge."

8:14 p.m.: Joe Carravetta said, "What we have here is taxation without representation. ... It will put a stranglehold on our housing values."

He offered ideas: combine facilities, eliminate the MdTA police—"they're roaming all over the county"—and raise the fees at the Inner Harbor tunnels in Baltimore.

"Where is the economic fairness when we were paying $5 for the Rt. 40 bridge when they were paying $2 down there?" he said.

He raised an issue with the concrete used on the ICC, versus what he said is lower-quality concrete.

"We'll be glad to secede, and tell the governor that," he said, walking off to applause.

8:10 p.m.: Nancy Waltman, of Colora, said diversion traffic is a major issue.

On AVI decals being removed in favor of new technology: "A technology issue? Today? I work with some kids who could probably figure that out for you."

8:09 p.m.: Edward Ellison, a retired Navy veteran, travels across Hatem Bridge multiple times a day for medical treatments.

"It would really cost me if you take away my decal," the elderly man said in a strained voice.

The crowd gave him a standing ovation upon his exit.

"That should be all you need to hear," someone in the crowd shouted after the ovation ended.

8:05 p.m.: A "Mr. Gordon" suggests tolls be placed on other roads, such as: "MD 4, MD 5, MD 97, 214, 255, US 301, US 29, 270."

8 p.m.: An unidentified Harford County woman said fee hikes would make it difficult for families to visit one another.

7:56 p.m.: Cecil County resident Millie Lacort suggests a pass ticket booklet as an alternative program.

"To expect a one-size-fits-all approach is unfair," she said.

7:55 p.m.: Public comment period begins.

7:52 p.m.: Cecil County commissioner Diana Broomell asked for consideration for the public for the June 27 public hearing in Havre de Grace.

"They're going to need a stadium," she said.

Broomell expressed concern over the removal of the AVI decal program: "I'm not buying that this is a safety issue after 30 years."

Instead of the decal program, Broomell said, "We should talk about removing the bridge toll."

Broomell said the county passed a tax rate below the constant yield: "We have to live within our means. I recommend the MdTA consider this as well."

7:51 p.m.: County Councilman Richard Slutzky of Harford County was brief so citizens could speak.

"We are attached at the hip to Cecil County," Slutzky said. "We are one community."

7:47 p.m.: Mary Carol Durange, town commissioner in Charlestown, expressed concern for the incoming BRAC residents seeking homes.

"People will look for houses—they won't come across the bridge to look for houses," she said. "Fair Hill races—people will not come across the bridge for that, either."

7:46 p.m.: Mayor Moody of Rising Sun expressed concern over the increased traffic in his town of 2,800 residents.

"Keep fighting. We don't want this toll increase," he said.

7:42 p.m.: Mayor Wayne Tome of Port Deposit told some history of the small community on the shore of the Susquehanna River between the Tydings Bridge and the Conowingo Dam.

"Port Deposit already faces increased traffic ... this creates damage to Main Street," Tome said. "Please consider and analyze the impact the proposed toll increases will have on Port Deposit."

7:33 p.m.: Mayor Jim Eberhardt of Perryville is joined on the floor by other Perryville representatives and the mayors of all municipalities in Cecil County.

"We are opposed to the discontinuation of the AVI," he said. "You are going to hear from some trucking folks about those tolls. Unbelievable. And you're going to give a discount if you pay more than $7,000 a month in tolls?"

Eberhardt said the proposed toll increases will divide Harford and Cecil counties.

Eberhardt cited some statistical information to display the disparity between the average incomes in Cecil County and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

"We've heard about redistribution," Eberhardt said. "I didn't know it was going from the poor to the rich."

7:32 p.m.: Havre de Grace Councilman Fred Cullum said the proposed rates only create a taller wall between Havre de Grace and Perryville.

7:31 p.m.: Havre de Grace Councilman Jim Miller said for residents to look at the MdTA budget online, in particular, the MdTA police.

"It's time to get rid of them, and it's time to get rid of the Maryland Transportation Authority. These people behind me have lost touch with reality. I'll implore everyone here ... let's do away with the Maryland Transportation Authority."

Miller said, "Never trust a person with a hyphenated last name," pointing to Swaim-Staley, before walking off and taking a bow before a raucous crowd.

7:27 p.m.: Councilwoman Barbara Wagner said that struggling businesses will struggle more with the proposed hikes.

"Our restaurants, many of the employees live in Cecil County. They are young, lower-income families."

Wagner said many cross the bridge up to five times a day.

"They do this every day," she said. "They do not have bank accounts. They do not have credit cards. They do not have the ability to purchase a transponder."

7:25 p.m.: Council President Bill Martin addresses the crowd, reading a short portion of a resolution created in a .

"We're a proud city of over 200 years," Martin said. "We don't call special session often, and we called one Monday night."

Martin said the Hatem Bridge was built "to unite us, not divide us. ... Tough times demand creative ideas and creative funding."

7:24 p.m.: Dougherty, reading his letter to the crowd, said the tolls create "an unnecessary, unfair barrier" between Havre de Grace and Perryville.

7:22 p.m.: Mayor Dougherty of Havre de Grace reads a letter he sent to the MdTA board on June 6, to which he never received a response. City Council members Fred Cullum, Barbara Wagner, Jim Miller and Council President Bill Martin joined the mayor.

7:21 p.m.: Del. Wayne Norman said traffic will skip I-95 and Rt. 40, and instead drive rural roads to take Rt. 1 over the Conowingo Dam.

Norman said Gov. O'Malley should get rid of one of his chefs, a chauffeur, or the private hunting club he attends, walking off to applause.

7:18 p.m.: Del. Steve Hersey said there were only 12 residents in attendance at the Prince George's County hearing.

Hershey got a loud round of applause in his opening remark on driving through Delaware for a short time on Rt. 301.

"I felt a little different," he said. "I felt a little comfortable in my car. I realized Gov. O'Malley's hand was not in my wallet."

He closed, saying, "If you truly are an independent board, I ask you to stand up to Gov. O'Malley, stand up for these people, and stop the toll hikes."

7:17 p.m.: Smigiel said, "We're going back in session for a special session in October. They want this wrapped up and done before we get an opportunity to discuss it."

He added, "This is a war on the suburban Maryland by the urban areas."

He walked off to laud applause, and a shout of "Thank you, Mike."

7:11 p.m.: Del. Michael Smigiel begins his address.

He said $1.25 billion will be sent to pay for the Intercounty Connector.

"The people who we are paying for are getting a zero percent increase," Smigiel said. "How is that proportional?"

Smigiel said he has asked to get rid of the MdTA police, and replace the bridge patrol with Maryland State Police, drawing a loud cheer from the crowd.

7:09 p.m.: Jacobs said he is a contractor by trade, and, "I've lowered my rates.
I've done whatever it took to keep my people working. ... This is not the time to talk about an increase of any kind on anything."

He said there were 87 people signed up to speak Wednesday night, and applauded the crowd tonight for having 118—as of this point in the evening—signed up to speak.

Jacobs said this proposal is like an earthquake, with the aftershock of raised rates in other industries.

"This is one Maryland. And Maryland does not separate at the Susquehanna, or the Chesapeake Bay Bridge," Jacobs said.

7:05 p.m.: Del. Jay Jacobs takes the microphone and applauds the crowd, which he said is larger than that from last night's public hearing.

Jacobs said the increase in sales taxes from five to six percent in 2008 forced Maryland residents to Delaware. He said the impending increase in alcohol tax will send people to Delaware. He said the proposed increases in tolls will send residents to Delaware to shop.

7:04 p.m.: Glass said the proposed increases impact "low-income, retired and retired military" the most.

He said the proposed increases will force residents to move out of state.

6:59 p.m.: As Del. Glenn Glass prepares to begin, Bing said there are more than 100 members of the public signed up to speak tonight.

Glass said the Twin Cities in Minnesota "do not charge a dime" to cross the Mississippi River.

Glass said residents of Harford and Cecil counties "should not have to pay a penny to cross the bridge."

He goes further, asking why residents should be charged to cross I-95, as well.

6:55 p.m.: Rudolph said there are 144,000 AVI decals in use, many of them for out-of-state residents.

Rudolph proposes AVI decals for Maryland residents remain $10, for out-of-state residents $40. He said he proposes $40 based upon a "Rhode Island case" where it was determined a 4-to-1 rate differential was fair.

Rudolph said the operational costs for the MdTA are roughly 10 percent more than similar organizations around the nation.

He suggests the elimination of "non-revenue transponders."

Rudolph proposes that toll employees should not jump from lane to lane to assist commuters without decals. Instead, he suggests taking a photo of a license plate and mailing the commuter a bill.

6:51 p.m.: Del. David Rudolph begins his address.

He says Maryland residents should have free use of Interstate 95, noting that Cecil County residents are the only ones in the state who pay to use I-95 in Maryland.

6:48 p.m.: Pipkin said he's proposed 24 bills to "fix" the MdTA.

"This agency is broken," Pipkin said.

Pipkin said he went to the board meeting when the proposal was approved, and members of the board suggested more increases would be made after these increases were implemented.

"I'm not going to cut a deal with the devil. What we have here is a big mistake," Pipkin said.

Pipkin suggests Gov. Martin O'Malley and the MdTA Board "get a Yankee hat and go to New York" for the "New York toll rates" they have proposed.

Pipkin said the bridges are meant to bring people together, but the rate increases "tear us apart."

"This isn't a tough decision, this is a stupid decision," Pipkin said.

Pipkin closed by saying the MdTA should "do their job" and re-draft the proposal, tearing up a sheet of paper in a display of what he hopes they do with the current proposal.

6:45 p.m.: Pipkin said just 18 residents of Montgomery County turned out for a public hearing recently.

Pipkin asks for more common sense from the MdTA, before asking how many people in the audience got a raise equivalent to the toll increases proposed.

"It doesn't make sense," Pipkin said, to applause.

"How many of you have been on the Montgomery County ICC?" Pipkin asks.

"The what?!" one resident yells back.

6:44 p.m.: The meeting resumes without audio to the spillover crowd at the back of the auditorium

6:42 p.m.: A technical delay in the sound system is said to need three minutes for repair.

6:41 p.m.: Sen. E.J. Pipkin opens his address by facing the crowd, turning his back to the MdTA board, saying his crowd is the audience, not the board at the table in front of the stage.

6:37 p.m.: Jacobs said: "We're the only county in the state that we charge our residents to come home at night. If they work in Delaware, we charge them there, too."

She continued: "The majority of people here use their AVI stickers. They don't use their transponders. To take that AVI sticker away, and charge them to use a transponder, is highway robbery. I would ask you, no I would beg of you, to give, if you're going to take away their AVI sticker, please provide every member who wants to cross that bridge with a free transponder."

Residents in the back of the auditorium yell, "That's not good enough."

Jacobs added: "Cecil County schools play Harford County schools. Parents travel back and forth. ... I have proposals I would like to sit down with you and talk about. It's more important to me that you hear from my people than to hear me speak. ... I really hope you will make these transponders free."

The crowd boos, yelling, "That's not good enough!"

Jacobs responds, by saying, "As you can see, we are wedded to the AVI sticker."

6:35 p.m.: Jacobs references a quote from 1940 in The Baltimore Sun, which said the bridge would one day "in the near future" be toll-free. The crowd cheers.

6:34 p.m.: Sen. Nancy Jacobs begins her address by saying, "Cecil County people are hardworking people. ... They're here tonight because they are hurting. They need your help."

Jacobs said there is a "very important veteran's hospital" in Cecil County, which draws people from all over the state, and that "it will cost them more to pay for tolls than it will for medication."

6:32 p.m.: Harris closes by saying, "The Hatem Bridge is a very unusual facility. You have businesses on both sides right up to that bridge. It divides a community."

6:30 p.m.: Harris said, "Cecil County has among the highest unemployment rates in the state of Maryland, many percent higher than those jurisdictions where you're going to take these people's money to and build the ICC."

The Intercounty Connector (ICC) was built in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

6:28 p.m.: Congressman Andy Harris opens the comment period: "This is democracy in action, we hope. I hear reports that this is a done deal, that this decision needs to be made, despite what these hundreds of people feel. I ask the board, that would be the wrong thing to do."

The crowd applauds.

"This decision was made in some smoke-filled rooms. You won't give us the data you used to make these decisions," Harris said.

6:26 p.m.: Bing said elected officials and organizational representatives will be given five minutes to speak. Members of the public will have an opportunity to speak following elected officials.

6:25 p.m.: Brown said the $1.50 monthly charge for an E-ZPass account does not apply to each transponder on an account, simply to the account itself.

6:22 p.m.: Brown said the first phase of the proposed plan would eliminate the AVI decal plan, and an E-ZPass plan would be offered for a discounted rate of $36 a year for unlimited trips.

He said the second phase would take the fee for E-ZPass plans on the Hatem Bridge to $72 a year for unlimited tolls. The crowd boos loudly, drowning out Brown's voice.

A five-axel fee on the Hatem and Tydings Bridges would be $36 per trip, Brown said.

For more on the proposed changes, click .

6:19 p.m.: Randy Brown of the MdTA is giving some key points on the toll proposal. He reminds those in attendance that there are handouts and display boards in the lobby.

6:18 p.m.: Swaim-Staley said there is no good time to raise tolls, but major commitments to facilities were made in 2005. She said $700 million was committed to facility upgrades, and there is a commitment to repay that debt.

"We will be here as long as it takes this evening," Swaim-Staley reiterated.

6:15 p.m.: MdTA Chairman Beverley K. Swaim-Staley opens the meeting by saying the MdTA Board will "be here as long as it takes" to hear everyone's comments.

6:14 p.m.: The video states there is $2.7 billion in debt to be paid, and that transportation links such as the Hatem Bridge "would not exist" without tolls.

6:10 p.m.: A video by the Maryland Transportation Authority is shown to the standing-room-only crowd.

6:03 p.m.: The meeting begins with facilitator Andrew Bing drawing applause from an antsy crowd by starting the meeting.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs led the crowd in The Pledge of Allegiance.

A laundry list of elected officials is read, and those not included on the list are introducing themselves via a roaming microphone as Bing jogs about the auditorium.

5:55 p.m.: The public hearing is scheduled to begin in five minutes. Keep up with all the news here on this blog.

Also, follow Havre de Grace Patch on  Twitter and become a fan of Havre de Grace Patch on  Facebook.

5:50 p.m.: It will be standing-room-only here at Perryville High School tonight. Our photo on this post was taken at 5:30 p.m., and there were very few open seats available then.

Event organizers said Wednesday's public hearing at Kent Island High School drew 800 members of the community.

For a list of all upcoming MdTA public hearings, click here.

5:15 p.m.: We're situated in the front row of the auditorium at Perryville High School, where we'll attempt to provide a live blog of tonight's public hearing on tolls at Hatem Bridge.

Display boards are located in the cafeteria at the rear of the auditorium, and the public comment session is set to begin at 6 p.m.

We'll try to update as much as possible from tonight's proceedings.

To read our coverage of the proposed changes to the toll rate and the discontinuation of the AVI decal program, check out the following links:

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Another public hearing will be held at the June 27 at 6 p.m.

A full list of public hearings can be found here.

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