Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

November 28, 2012

Reason should prevail regarding toll bridge

The purpose of this letter is to rebut the Nov. 18 letter to the editor regarding the increased fees for use of the Oldtown Toll Bridge (“Users of Oldtown Toll Bridge should be willing to pay more”).

We are a group of West Virginia residents who want the “Voice of Reason” to prevail and whose mission is: 1) to keep the bridge open, 2) to raise concerns about the process used to obtain the published fee increases and the validity of the rationale for those increases, 3) to show there is considerable room for compromise; i.e., we agree with a reasonable fee increase; one that considers the economic difficulties of the residents being served by the bridge; and 4) to explore funding avenues other than our economically ravaged pocketbooks. e.g., should the bridge be under both West Virginia and Maryland jurisdictions since it handles interstate traffic or should repairs be federally funded because it handles interstate commerce?

We have a concern with the jurisdiction of the bridge being with the Maryland Public Service Commission only.

Does it make sense for the Maryland PSC, comfortable and familiar with determining utility rates in Maryland metropolitan areas, to arbitrarily make life-changing decisions for a $66,000 low water, interstate bridge that directly affects the lives and commerce of rural Maryland and West Virginia communities?

The manner in which the Maryland PSC handled this issue, and their decision to grant a 200 percent increase, raises other specific concerns, as follows:

The PSC made their preliminary judgment prior to viewing or understanding the bridge’s importance to our communities. No public input was allowed prior to the PSC preliminary decision. Public participation was limited to a meeting of 100-plus local residents to state their grievances and opinions — no questions were answered and no obvious mechanism was offered to challenge a seemingly arbitrary and capricious bureaucratic decision.

Although the immediate issue of raising the toll represents a devastating 200 to 300 percent increase in cost, there is another equally upsetting issue, the potential closure of the bridge. Bridge closure is not an option! The Oldtown Toll Bridge is our lifeline. It’s our livelihoods. It’s our lives! It is not just a convenient route used to visit families, friends, and summer camps.

We want the author of the Nov. 18 letter to know we too “understand the economics.”

We understand the loss of the monthly pass would be devastating to the local residents. Some have families straddling the river, requiring multiple daily crossings to provide assistance ranging from day care to health care.

For these individuals, costs would soar from $170 yearly to $2,190; a 1,200 percent increase in user costs (or, corresponding “raise” for the owners). The increase to workweek users represents a 460 percent “raise.”

We don’t question the need for a reasonable revenue increase; however, it should be at a level appropriate for a $66,000 investment. A proposed increase to cover, for example, a “raise” in annual salary to the $60,000 to $100,000 level does not meet most people’s expectations of reasonable.

We have many other related concerns, such as the fee increases for trucks (many exceeding weight limitations) being less than the proposed increases for auto traffic.

Or the $500,000 yearly bridge revenue embedded in the owners’ request. What happens to the crossing fees once the $700,000 of repairs has been spent? Will they decrease or will they be sustained to allow a $500,000 “raise” to the owners’ revenues?

Yes, most everyone who works, or is reliant on Social Security, or depends on welfare wants a raise, but whom, in this or any economy really believes a raise of this magnitude is reasonable?

Susanne Roy, Aileen Nolan, Tina Rapson, Dave Bottrell, Judy Merritt, Dave Cannon

The Voice of Reason: A committee formed for safeguarding the Oldtown Toll Bridge

Green Spring, W.Va.

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