Taking their toll

August 13, 2007

Cecil County officials want to do away with the tolls on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway and at the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, the oldest toll facility in Maryland. They say the tolls, at Exit 93 on Interstate 95 and at U.S. 40 over the Susquehanna River, have thwarted economic development in nearby Perryville and Port Deposit and would deter Army personnel and other workers from settling in Cecil County when thousands of military jobs move to Maryland. But relocating the tolls won't necessarily guarantee a reversal of fortune for the county, and rapid growth there would strain already taxed water resources.

A study of the JFK Highway toll's impact, commissioned by Cecil officials, details the difference in jobs, income, businesses and median housing prices in Perryville and Port Deposit, the towns nearest the toll, compared with other Cecil communities, and it cites the presence of the toll facility as the only difference. An average of 80,855 motorists travel daily through the JFK toll, which opened in 1963, and according to the Maryland Toll Facilities Administration, the toll brings in about $103 million annually. But the cost of the toll doesn't strike us as onerous.

Commuters can benefit from a discounted price for toll tokens, about $20 a month, which is less than a $32, 10-trip discount pass to travel from Perryville to Aberdeen on the MARC train.

The decision of the 2005 base realignment and closure commission to transfer thousands of military jobs from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and from Northern Virginia to Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County has the potential to bring new residents to Maryland, and every locality in the region is hoping to benefit.

Cecil is no different, but relocating the JFK and Hatem toll facilities to the Delaware line, as county officials propose, would present a significant cost to the state, and Maryland Transportation Authority officials note that the present sites were chosen for a reason - there are fewer ways to avoid them.

In preparing for the arrival of BRAC jobs and businesses, we have encouraged the state to look beyond Anne Arundel and Harford counties, to plan regionally so as to benefit the entire metropolitan area, and a discussion with Delaware officials could help ease traffic in that congested northeast corridor.

But Cecil County faces a shortage of drinking water and of sewage treatment capacity, which affect future development. Until those problems are solved in a manner that doesn't threaten the fragile health of the Chesapeake Bay, Cecil's bid to remove the tolls makes no sense.

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