ANNAPOLIS — A House committee signaled Friday afternoon that it might put the brakes on a Frederick County bill designed to impose up to $10,000 in fines for stuck trucks on Md. 75.
The bill — sponsored by the Frederick County delegation and supported by Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner — would increase the maximum penalty from $500 to $10,000 for trucks failing to obey warning signs on Md. 75 between Baldwin Road and Md. 80.
Since 2010, the State Highway Administration has responded to a 12-foot-6-inch CSX rail bridge on the road more than 200 times to help trucks that were stuck under the bridge or needed help turning around.
Members of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, which must support the bill to allow a vote of the full House of Delegates, seemed taken aback by the scale of the increased fine.
“It may seem somewhat unusual ... but we feel that the situation is so egregious and so serious,” said Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-District 4. “We wanted it to hurt. We wanted to send a message to truckers around the country.”
Afzali detailed the signs that are in the area leading to the bridge and leading to Md. 75. Signs warn trucks over a certain size that they will not be able to use the route as a through-road.
Most of the trucks that hit the bridge, or get stuck trying to turn around on the narrow, winding road, are headed for a Costco warehouse off Intercoastal Drive.
The Maryland Motor Truck Association opposes the bill. The group said the proposed fine “far outweighs the crime and would establish a dangerous public policy precedent on our roadways.”
The bill would impose the fine when trucks get stranded on the road, even if the bridge is not hit. Louis Campion, the president of the association, asked members whether he thought the fine should be many times higher than those for driving under the influence ($500) or fleeing and eluding police ($1,000).
Previously, Frederick County’s General Assembly delegation voted 7-0 to support the measure. Delegate William Folden, R-District 4, a member of the House committee, abstained from the vote.
“I have a hard time with a very excessive fine that does not match a crime,” Folden said at the end of the hearing.
Other lawmakers asked whether increased law enforcement or more coordination with Costco could reduce incidents. Folden and Campion said the problem would be largely addressed if turnarounds are installed for truckers that start out on the route before realizing the bridge is ahead.
The county has said at least one turnaround could be completed in about a year. Costco has given $150,000, and the Maryland State Highway Administration has identified a space to construct a turnaround on the north side. Conversations about improvement on the south side are continuing.
Steve McKay, president of Residents Against Landsdale Expansion, or RALE, said the fine could work in conjunction with the turnarounds and more needs to be done to improve the quality of life for nearby residents.
In July 2013, the State Highway Administration implemented a new truck restriction on the road to limit traffic.
The agency has spent $300,000 to install large signs, flashing lights and sensors to deter oversize trucks.
“We aren’t asking for money now. They’ve spent enough,” McKay said. “We think the violators should spend a little now.”
Six other Monrovia residents sent letters supporting the bill.