Relocating I-95 tollgates hits Del. snag

State's residents oppose combined stop at hearing

Md. officials eye shifting site

Area legislators say move would eliminate `divide'

May 16, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Discussions to move the Interstate 95 tollgate near Perryville closer to Delaware -- a shift that some Maryland lawmakers say would make Cecil County more a part of Maryland -- may have hit a roadblock.

A spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Transportation said on Friday that Delaware is rethinking its plans for moving its tollgate so that it can expand the number of lanes and reduce traffic backups.

At least some Maryland lawmakers saw Delaware's plan as an opportunity for the states to combine their toll-collecting operations into a single stop for motorists using the interstate.

That suggestion, however, did not go over well with Delaware residents.

Michele Ackles, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Transportation, said the state held a public hearing Monday night and "the citizens told us to leave it [the tollgate] where it is."

"They said the preferred alternative is to expand the tollgate where it is today," she said.

Despite Delaware's action, state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents Cecil County, said Maryland is still pursuing the possibility of shifting its tollgate. She said Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan has held talks with his counterpart in Delaware and more talks are scheduled.

She said one option under consideration was to consolidate the tollgates into a single operation. Under this arrangement, Maryland would collect tolls from vehicles traveling in one direction and Delaware would collect tolls from vehicles going in the opposite direction.

Ackles said Delaware is not in favor of such a step.

"With a hop, skip and a jump, it would be too easy for motorists to bypass the toll" by using alternate routes, she said.

Jacobs said Maryland is also considering going it alone and moving its tollgate closer to Delaware. She said that Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Secretary Thomas L. Osborne is studying the feasibility of various changes to the I-95 toll facility. "The study is to see what would make the most sense," she said.

Del. David D. Rudolph, a Democrat from Rising Sun, said he is scheduled to meet with Osborne again this week to discuss the tollgate.

Byron Johnston, director of media relations for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the state's toll facilities, said that possible changes at the Perryville tollgate are still being reviewed.

He said that options are being considered along with a study of the potential impact of different moves. He did not know when a decision would be made.

Maryland lawmakers said moving the tollgate would eliminate a barrier between Cecil County and much of the rest of the state. They say it would be a boon to businesses in Harford and Cecil counties.

Jacobs has called the tollgate "the great divide" between Cecil and Harford counties, the two regions she represents. Motorists who choose not to take a roundabout route, such as U.S. 1, are stuck with a toll.

"Anybody coming to Cecil County now has to pay a $5 toll," she said, and that the fee disrupts the free flow of shoppers between the two counties.

"People don't like being forced to pay $5 to go shopping," she said, noting that her family members like buying their shoes at the Nike outlet store in Perryville but are not happy about paying the additional $5 in travel expenses.

Cecil County Commissioner Phyllis Kilby said moving the toll would benefit companies in Cecil County doing business in Baltimore or Washington, especially trucking companies.

"It would be a big help to trucking companies who are already struggling with high fuel costs," she said.

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