Price of good will? $2.50

August 29, 2006

You've got to hand it to Ocean City, which surely realizes that by footing the bill for motorists crossing the Bay Bridge between 9 and noon this Friday, Sept. 1, thousands of drivers whose destinations are nowhere near the resort will be spared the customary $2.50 toll. Ocean City is expected to pay the state about $28,000 - it could be more or less, depending upon the volume of traffic - to cover the three-hour Labor Day weekend freebie.

The purpose is to encourage beachgoers to head for the shore early and to avoid backups, which can dampen any driver's holiday mood. It's part of the Maryland Transportation Authority's effort to make the beach route safer and less congested, and because of its sponsorship role this year, the town of Ocean City stands to reap some positive public relations. Two and a half bucks isn't much savings for a family on a three-day beach binge - what will that buy you on the boardwalk? - but the thought behind it is nice.

Offering drivers a window of toll-free bridge-hopping is an intermittent practice the state started a few years ago. The Maryland Lottery Agency was the first sponsor, followed by the nonprofit organization Ocean Conservancy. Ocean City is the first municipality to participate. The idea is a good one, and more sponsors should step up to the tollgate. Who's next? Rehoboth? Dewey Beach? Chincoteague? How about any of the towns along the "Reach the Beach" route that have permitted so much roadside commercialization that traffic is forced to slow to a crawl? It's about time they said they were sorry for the inconvenience.

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