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Hearing on bridge toll increases set for Perryville Thursday

The Maryland Transportation Authority will hold the first of two local public hearings Thursday on its controversial proposal to increase tolls on the I-95 and Route 40 bridges spanning the Susquehanna River.

Thursday's hearing will be at Perryville High School at 1696 Perryville Road from 5:30 p.m. until 8.

Residents, business owners and elected officials have decried the planned increase, which will hit people who commute back and forth over the two bridges particularly hard.

One of the most criticized aspects of the toll increase involves the elimination of the automatic vehicle identification decal, or AVI, for people who frequently cross the Route 40 Hatem Memorial Bridge between Havre de Grace and Perryville.

The Maryland Transportation Authority, or MdTA, which operates the state's toll roads, bridges and tunnels, plans to phase out the AVI decal, which costs $10 annually, with an E-Zpass discounted rate, which would initially be $36 a year starting Oct. 1 and $72 a year effective July 1, 2013.

In addition, motorists who don't already have an E-Zpass transponder will have to purchase them and pay the E-Zpass administration fee which typically runs about $1.50 monthly.

The basic two-axle vehicle cash toll on the Hatem Bridge and I-95 Tydings Memorial Bridge will increase from $5 to $6 effective Oct. 1 and will increase to $8 effective July 1, 2013. Cash toll is collected northbound only.

A number of opponents, including Northern Harford Sen. Barry Glassman, say businesses in Harford and Cecil counties will be adversely affected by the increase, including those that have work vehicles and trailers they use on both sides of the river.

Protests have also been forthcoming from the recreational community, including those who trailer boats across the river.

The current 3-axle cash toll for the bridges is $15; 4-axle vehicles pay $23. The proposed increased tolls for 3-axle vehicles are $18 on Jan. 1, 2012, and $24 on July 1, 2013, and for 4-axle vehicles $27 on Jan. 1, 2012, and $36 on July 1, 2013.

At this Thursday's hearing in Perryville, attendees will sign in and view displays from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., after which a formal presentation and testimony will start. Registration for public comment will close at 7:45 p.m.

MdTA has also scheduled a second hearing in the area for Monday, June 27, at the Havre de Grace Activity Center at 351 Lewis Lane, also beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Several dozen people attended a hearing on the increase held Monday evening in Baltimore the first of the nine the MdTA is holding, according to a story in The Baltimore Sun. All the speakers said they were opposed to the increase, and some criticized the way MdTA developed it.

A number of residents and local officials, as well as state officials including Sen. Nancy Jacobs, whose legislative district includes both Susquehanna bridges, have already expressed their opposition.

Jacobs led a protest in Perryville last week, where she said she might file suit against MdTA in an attempt to block the increase from taking effect. Several dozen people attended, including Perryville Mayor Jim Eberhardt and other elected officials from both sides of the river.

The local chapter of Campaign for Liberty is asking residents to come to both local hearings and express their opposition.

Campaign for Liberty sent out an e-mail announcing a protest at both the Perryville and Havre de Grace hearings.

"These increases are due to irresponsible planning by legislators and executives in Maryland Government," the e-mail reads. "This will suffocate commerce between Harford and Cecil counties."

The group encourages residents to call Gov. Martin O'Malley's office at 1-800-811-8336, e-mail MdTA commissioners, join the rallies at the hearings or submit comments to http://mdta.force.com/publiccomment.

Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this article.

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