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State backs off on Susquehanna toll hikes

The Maryland Transportation Authority board plans to keep the AVI decal toll bridge sticker system for another year, raising its cost to $20 in July 2012, and then institute a special EZPass program for Hatem Bridge users after that, Sen. Nancy Jacobs reported Thursday.

At a work session Thursday morning, the board released the plan expected to be public Sept. 22, Jacobs said.

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The board plans to give Hatem Bridge users a free EZPass transponder for two years and no monthly administration fee, and will keep the annual cost of going over the bridge at $10.

The cost of a transponder is also being decreased overall to $9.

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The tolls at Hatem Bridge and I-95 will go up to $6, and then $8 on July 1, 2013, she said.

Although Jacobs said she is not as happy as she would be if they had kept the decal, "they took my plan," she noted.

"They came down on everything. It's amazing," she said. "They are going to lose $30 million under this plan from what they originally proposed."

That meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in Baltimore, at 2310 Broening Highway.

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who represents Harford and Cecil counties, had said last week she expected the vote to take place by October.

The toll authority board pushed off the final decision by about a month after thousands of residents living around the Susquehanna River bridges protested MdTA's plan to raise tolls and eliminate the AVI decal commuter discount on the Route 40 Thomas J. Hatem Bridge.

Jacobs also said last week she expects the board's final decision to take citizen feedback into account.

The MdTA board said on its website in mid-August it had received about 4,000 comments. The public comment period ended Aug.1.

"They did hear loud and clear from Harford and Cecil regarding the Hatem, and I think they are really going to be taking into consideration everything that went on," Jacobs said.

Jacobs also has sent the state attorney general a letter listing court cases from around the country that upheld local decision-making on issues such as this one, to justify the possibility of making special toll exceptions for the Hatem Bridge.

The proposed toll increases on the Hatem and I-95 Millard Tydings bridges are set to increase Oct. 1, when the base cash toll to cross both spans northbound will rise from $5 to $6. The original MdTA plan would increase those tolls to $8 in July 2013.

The toll authority wants to eliminate the $10 a year, unlimited trip AVI decal and replace it with what the authority calls a "discounted" E-Zpass costing $36 a year but eventually raising to $72 a year in July 2013.

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In addition, the E-Zpass system requires the purchase of a transponder and payment of a monthly account maintenance fee of about $1.50.

A toll authority spokesperson said earlier this year there are 150,000 Hatem Bridge AVI decals in circulation. According to the bridge's website, 11 million vehicles cross annually.

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