Cumberland Times-News

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December 1, 2012

Drivers seek monthly pass for Oldtown Bridge

Regular travelers start a petition drive

OLDTOWN — While those who use the Oldtown Bridge understand the need for upgrades, they hope a monthly pass will remain in place for regular users of the bridge.

Tina Rapson is one of the leaders of a petition drive asking to keep a monthly pass in place for the bridge. Rapson said more than 325 signatures have been obtained on the petition.

“We’re not petitioning against the raise (in fees), but for the monthly passes,” Rapson said.

Eliminating the passes is “not fair to the people who use the bridge every day,” Rapson said. “We just want to present our side.”

A column by those hoping to retain the monthly pass was published in the Times-News on Nov. 29.

Rapson said she has been using the bridge for 25 to 30 years.

If the tolls are raised without a monthly pass discount, the cost of using the bridge will rise from $14 a month to $80 to 90 a month, Rapson said.

About 100 people showed up at a Nov. 5 hearing at Oldtown Old School, Rapson said.

The owner of the bridge has petitioned the Maryland Public Service Commission for an increase in tolls to pay for much-needed repairs and raises for herself and employees.

Without the repairs, the bridge’s future could be in doubt, the owner has said.

The company that owns the bridge, Historic Oldtown Bridge Preservation LLC, has filed for a rate increase with the Maryland Public Service Commission.

PSC staff agreed with the need for rate increases, but recommended smaller in-creases than those requested by the bridge’s owners.

The current rates are 50 cents for cars and pickup trucks, 25 cents for motorcycles and $2 for tractor-trailers and buses.

Lori Roberts, the CEO of the company that owns the bridge, asked for $2 for cars and pickups, $1 for motorcycles and $8 for buses and tractor-trailers.

PSC staff have recommended rates of $1.50 for automobiles and trucks, 50 cents for motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles and $2.50 for buses and tractor-trailers.

Among the more significant changes if the request is granted would be the elimination of a monthly pass, currently $14.

Roberts said the company is operating in “crisis mode” and cannot afford the discounted monthly rate. The PSC staff agreed with the elimination of the monthly pass. An administrative law judge will make the final decision, though.

The bridge is the only privately owned and operated toll bridge in Maryland and crosses the Potomac River between Oldtown and Green Spring, W.Va. Concrete pedestals support the wooden bridge, according to the bridge’s website.

About 200,000 vehicles cross the bridge in a year, according to tollroad news.com.

The bridge is important because it is the only river crossing for “approximately 15 miles in either direction, and closure of the bridge results in long detours for residents on both sides of the river,” said Jennifer Brekke-Miles of the PSC.

The bridge is in poor condition and money is not available for needed repairs, said Roberts. She added that the substructure of the bridge is in bad shape as well.

The substructure “consists of timber beam seats, abutments and wing walls, and piers,” Roberts said in her PSC testimony supporting the rate increase. “Five abutments, all the timber beam seats and the entire decking needs to be replaced.

Documents filed in the case may be viewed on the PSC website by searching for case number 9296.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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