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A deal for the weigh station?

July 22, 2005

Citing opposition by many in Washington County, the Maryland Department of Transportation this week said it would drop its plans to put toll booths on Interstate 81 and place a truck weigh station there instead.

On Tuesday, some of the Washington County Commissioners said they were concerned that placing the station in an already congested area would use up prime commercial land and just add to traffic problems there.

These are valid concerns, but it seems to us that there should be room for negotiation here.

If the county government agrees on a weigh station, why couldn't state officials agree to apply the fines collected to the widening of Interstate 81?

In 2004, Robert Flanagan, the state's Transportation Secretary, said that with tolls, the state could begin the $400 million-plus project to widen I-81 within three to four years.

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Without tolls, it would take 20 to 30 years, Flanagan said, even though the 12-mile stretch is one of the most crowded along that interstate highway.

At the time, a State Highway Administration report estimated that 34 percent of the more than 30,000 vehicles that use the road every day were trucks.

Back then Secretary Flanagan said that fears of congestion were unfounded because the state could set up EZPass "toll screens" to allow drivers to pass through the booths at highway speeds.

Not so the weigh station. Every big rig on the road will have to pull in to be weighed and inspected. At 400 to 700 trucks per hour, that's a lot of stopping and starting, not to mention idling while truckers wait their turn.

A weigh station that busy has the potential to increase local air pollution and congestion on I-81, not to mention those truckers who will try to evade the weigh-in by shifting to local roads such as U.S. 11.

In exchange for accepting all that, the commissioners should make a strong case that Maryland's portion of Interstate 81 needs more lanes - and not 20 or 30 years from now.

It was doubtful that federal officials would have allowed toll booths on I-81. Before the commissioners accept the weigh station, they could make sure the county is getting something in return.

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