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I-81 toll proposal upsets some

October 07, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A state proposal to put toll booths along Interstate 81 would divert traffic from the highway and jam the streets of Williamsport, town resident Chris South testified at a public hearing Wednesday night.

South was one of about eight people to testify at a State Highway Administration public hearing at North Hagerstown High School. Many of those who testified said they opposed the state charging tolls to travel on the 12-mile stretch of I-81, all of which is in Washington County.

The State Highway Administration has proposed four options that would place toll booths near the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders.

State officials said charging tolls ranging from 50 cents to $2 would generate money for safety improvements to the busy I-81. Those improvements might include widening the highway and adding to acceleration and deceleration lanes.

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A truck weigh station is proposed for 10 acres along I-81 south between Halfway Boulevard and U.S. 40.

The project would cost $150 million to $450 million, depending on the extent of the improvements.

With tolls, improvements would begin within the next 10 years. Without tolls, the project might be phased in over 20 to 30 years, according to the State Highway Administration.

"Any of the four toll options currently under consideration would translate into gridlock in the Town of Williamsport," said South, who testified that travelers would get off the interstate to bypass the booths.

South said the increased traffic would affect local businesses, cause the town to spend more money on law enforcement and negatively affect the quality of life for the town's residents.

The issue has grabbed the attention of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, which released a written statement Wednesday afternoon opposing the proposed tolls.

The Chamber said tolls would slow the operations of area businesses that use I-81 and add to their expenses.

"These impediments could cause firms to reconsider locating, expanding or maintaining operations in Washington County," the Chamber said in the statement.

"Businesses not directly dependent on the interstates would see local roads congested as traffic moves from the interstates to alternative routes through Hagerstown," the statement said. "These changing traffic patterns will make local traffic problems worse, greatly disrupt businesses, and slow down efforts to revitalize Hagerstown's urban center."

Paj Patel, an owner of Microtel Inns & Suites, just off I-81's Maugans Avenue exit, said he was concerned with some of the state's I-81 widening proposals.

He said the state should widen the highway from the inside lanes. Widening I-81 from the outside lanes would force him give his business to the state, which would need the land for the widening, he said.

"It's our business," Patel said of the hotel, which opened three years ago. "We worked very hard to put this business together."

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