State lawmakers want to move the Interstate 95 tollgate near Perryville farther east - a shift that they said will make Cecil County more a part of Maryland and will be a boon to businesses in the county.
Such a move would also be welcomed by residents of Harford County, said Del. Barry Glassman, a Republican and head of Harford County's Assembly delegation. He said "our young people are moving to Cecil County. We are becoming one big family."
Del. David D. Rudolph, a Cecil County Democrat, said he is drafting a bill that would encourage the state to move the tollbooth closer to the Delaware line. He would like to have it east of Route 279, the last exit off I-95 in Maryland.
Rudolph said Delaware is considering moving its tollgate so it can expand the number of lanes and reduce traffic backups. He would like the Maryland Transportation Authority to consider teaming with Delaware on the construction of the new tollgate.
In such an arrangement, he said, "Delaware could collect the toll from cars going north and Maryland could collect from cars going south, or it could be the other way around."
Cecil County Commissioner Phyllis Kilby said moving the tollgate would be a big benefit to stores at Prime Outlets Perryville and other businesses in Cecil County. The outlet center is just west of the tollgate.
"The recent toll increase on I-95 has had a very adverse affect on the outlet mall," Kilby said. "A lot of people are balking at the idea of paying a $5 toll to go to the mall. The toll eats up any savings they get from going to the outlet stores."
"Right now the river is the great divide between Harford and Cecil counties," state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents parts of both counties.
She said the toll disrupts the flow of shoppers between the two counties and is likely having an impact on White Marsh Mall off I-95 in Baltimore County. "People don't like being forced to pay $5 to go shopping," she said. The toll was increased to $5 for eastbound traffic in October.
Jacobs agreed with Rudolph and Kilby that the tollgate is putting additional traffic strains on U.S. 40 and back roads in the county as motorists detour off I-95 to avoid the payment.
Jacobs said commuters can purchase a $5 sticker for their cars that allows them to cross the U.S. 40 bridge over the Susquehanna River for a year. "That has diverted a lot of traffic to Route 40 in the evenings as people are coming home from work. This has caused terrible problems, big backups."
Maryland does not collect a toll on cars traveling west over the river.
During the debate over the redevelopment of Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit, residents argued that traffic would increase on Main Street as workers at the former Navy boot camp detoured through town to avoid paying a toll.
Kilby and Commission Chairman Nelson K. Bolender said drivers look for ways to skip the toll. "It is not that difficult to get around it," Kilby said. "You only have to go a mile or so out of your way. But that's putting increased traffic on roads not designed to handle the amount of traffic they are getting."
Rudolph said that if the tollgate can't be moved, he hopes that the MTA, which operates the toll facility, would allow motorists to use their U.S. 40 toll discount stickers at the I-95 toll during evening rush hours.
Bolender said he has requested that the Wilmington Area Planning Council, which represents New Castle County in Delaware and Cecil County, study ways to make traveling easier for motorists in northeastern Maryland.
Bryon Johnston, a spokesman for the MTA, said agency officials are looking at the situation and have been talking with their counterparts in Delaware.
Johnston said it was too soon to say what might be done. He said the situation requires research and does not lend itself to a quick decision.
Johnston offered an alternative: Commuters can purchase an E-ZPass electronic toll device that for $20 allows 50 trips through the tollgate over a 60-day period.
"They would break even," he said, "if they use it only twice a month."