Is elimination of AVI decals just EZ (Pass) money?

August 09, 2011

Even  as the Maryland Transportation Authority has shown signs of backing down from its plan to do away with the AVI decal system for the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge which carries Route 40 over the Susquehanna River, the reason the plan was pushed so vigorously has become very clear: it would bring in a lot of money from relatively few people.

The take from an individual vehicle under the state's plan to do away with the AVI decals and instead use the EZ Pass system would go from $10 a year to $72 a year, an increase of $62 per car.

If each of the roughly 150,000 people who use the stickers were to switch over (and there's every reason to believe they would because the $72 a year would still be cheaper for most folks than paying the toll at each crossing), the state's stake would increase by $9.3 million a year.

That's a lot of money out of a relatively few pockets. For the state, though, that additional $62 per car translates into hundreds of millions in potential construction money. That's because $9.3 million a year can cover the debt service on a few hundred million in state bonds, substantially more than even the major $67 million reconstruction project planned for the bridge.

There was plenty pointing to the notion that the state was using toll hikes to subsidize projects elsewhere. Quite honestly, if there were reason to believe the same thing would happen in the other direction sometime in the future, it might be OK, but the state finance pipeline has been flowing one way in the other direction for too long to make that seem likely.

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