After facing a toll hike and the retirement of the old decal system, some users of the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge between Harford and Cecil counties might get another rude awakening: No more cash tolls and no more toll booths as those crossing the Susquehanna River via Route 40 have long known them.
The bridge's toll plaza will be the first to have its cash tolls eliminated by the Maryland Transportation Authority and replaced with electronic tolling sometime next year, MDTA announced.
Hatem Bridge was selected because more than 90 percent of the drivers who pass over it now use E-ZPass instead of cash, the highest percentage of any MDTA toll plazas, spokeswoman Rachel Freeberger explained.
"All Electronic Tolling (AET) is becoming more common across the country for both new toll facilities and for existing toll plazas. The MDTA has been studying the feasibility of AET at all of its toll plazas for some time now," Freeberger said.
"MDTA has been studying the feasibility of AET for its toll plazas and finalized the report this month. There are many factors that need to be considered in the feasibility of moving a traditional toll plaza to AET, including E-ZPass usage, staffing, costs, traffic analysis, education/outreach, maintenance and operational issues and toll enforcement agreements with other states," she wrote in an e-mail.
The new electronic system is expected to improve safety, traffic movement and customer convenience, she said, as there will be no slowing, stopping or merging in and out of the toll plaza. The current plaza, on the Cecil County side of the bridge, will be demolished.
Those who do not have E-ZPass will pay the toll at highway speed via "video tolling," in which drivers are mailed a bill after the trip. That process is already used at the bridge for drivers who do not have a valid E-ZPass or cash, she said.
Also, she said, "with AET, E-ZPass customers will have the benefit of paying their tolls at highway speed as they pass beneath tolling equipment rather than slowing/stopping at the toll plaza."
MDTA expects an initial savings of about $500,000 from the elimination of maintenance costs on the toll booths, she said.
"Additional savings will be seen in the long term with elimination of maintenance costs for the toll plaza and older tolling equipment in the toll lanes," she said.
The construction schedule will be set after public outreach, which is expected to start early next year, she said.
"We will have public meetings (not hearings) and accept public comments/feedback," Freeberger wrote.
The Hatem Bridge opened to traffic in 1940.