Work yes, tolls no

  • The Maryland Transportation Authority has started a $10.8 million project to clean and paint specific steel portions of the Hatem Bridge. The painting follows the recent three-year redecking of the bridge, and more work is on the way.
The Maryland Transportation Authority has started a $10.8… (Nicole Munchel, Patuxent…)

Be it the fairly regular paint jobs or the recently completed deck replacement project, or the impending major upgrade of the underwater supports, work on the Thomas Hatem Route 40 Bridge over the Susquehanna River is seemingly never-ending.

It stands to reason that this is so. The bridge is decades old and heavily used. It would be something of a concern if work weren't being done on it fairly regularly.

And such projects don't come cheap, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority: in excess of $10 million for a paint job, nearly $67 million for the deck project and another $54 million for the planned underwater work ahead.

The bridge support work to come has been anticipated for quite some time. An underwater inspection a few years back showed substantial work needed to be done on the bridge. Unfortunately, over the life of the span, little had been done below the waterline in terms of either inspections or maintenance work.

Still, all these expenses have been, to one degree or another, anticipated and long-range funding plans put in place for them. Now, however, they're on the verge of being used to justify planned toll hikes for bridge users.

A recent news release on the project is emblazoned with a logo stating: "TOLL DOLLARS AT WORK."

Certainly this is true. Then again, previous projects have been paid for with toll money and not such a big deal was made of it.

From time to time, it becomes fashionable in government to point out that one or another project is made possible by tolls, fees or the result of your tax dollars being at work.

This campaign, however, is particularly irritating because it seems to imply that an outrageous increase in tolls is required for this work. It isn't. The increase is needed to pay for political tomfoolery on the part of the current governor and his two predecessors.

Transportation funds were used to balance the state budget for several years running, which is to say transportation money paid for things other than transportation. Meanwhile, plans for the Inter County Connector, a multimillion dollar thoroughfare serving suburban Washington, D.C.,  has for years been hailed as a traffic jam solution for the communities that will use it.

Make no mistake. When work starts on the Hatem Bridge to shore up its supports, it will be paid for with toll money, but your tolls will also be paying for years of cooking the state books for political convenience and major projects closer to the Potomac River.

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