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Toll options weighed for Interstate 81

May 27, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Living near Interstate 81 in Maugansville, Robert and Virginia Walton think widening the busy highway is a good way to make traveling safer.

But they said they don't agree with a state proposal that would place toll booths along Maryland's 12-mile stretch of the interstate, which the State Highway Administration says would help pay for safety improvements to I-81.

Robert Walton said tax dollars already will go toward upgrades to the highway and residents shouldn't have to pay again to use the interstate.

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"I think that's too many taxes," he said.

The Waltons were among residents at North Hagerstown High School on Wednesday for a State Highway Administration public workshop on the agency's proposed I-81 improvement project.

The state is in the planning stages of the project, which may widen the highway, place toll booths near the West Virginia and Pennsylvania borders and build a truck weigh station along the southbound lane between Halfway Boulevard and U.S. 40.

State project manager Nicole Washington said the project would improve traffic conditions and increase safety.

Maryland State Police Lt. Dean Richardson and Trooper 1st Class Brian Kloos, who were at the workshop, said a weigh station would help police enforce truck weight regulations in Maryland.

"If a weigh station is on the interstate, of course trucks have to enter it," Kloos said.

Richardson said a weigh station would reduce the number of truck accidents.

There are no permanent weigh stations along I-81 in the Tri-State area, Washington said.

According to the State Highway Administration, there were 145 truck-related accidents on I-81 in Maryland from 1998 to 2002. There were nine fatal accidents, 205 injuries and 201 property-damage accidents during that time.

Estimates for the cost of work on the interstate range from $230 million to $485 million, depending on the extent of the upgrades.

The construction of toll booths would cost an additional $35 million to $55 million, and the price range for the truck weigh station is estimated to be an additional $16 million to $30 million, Washington said.

With revenue from tolls, the project would start in six to nine years after the final design is approved.

Without the toll revenue, construction wouldn't begin for 20 to 30 years, Washington said.

"I think it's going to help," Hagerstown resident Doris Pitsnogle said. "Traffic is heavy now."

"I think we need it," Hagerstown resident Charles Martin said. "For us to get it built, we're just going to have to charge a toll."

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