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Mad Motorists Fighting Tolls With Vengeance

March 8, 1989

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Motorists angered by having to pay both bridge tolls and higher taxes are fighting back, dropping everything from cherry bombs to bras into toll baskets. A couple of the baskets have even been shot at.

A year ago, Jacksonville citizens voted to replace the city’s many bridge and road tolls with a half-cent sales tax.

The tax has been in place since Jan. 1. The tolls go on.

″Either tax us or toll us, but not both together at the same time. We’re being raped. Financially raped,″ said Sally Gooch, 38, whose weekly driving takes her over some of the four pay bridges spanning the St. Johns River.

City officials say residents got just what the voted for - if they read the fine print.

The tolls remain until state bridge bonds can be refinanced using the tax as a basis of repayment instead of the tolls. Officials say the refinancing could take six months. If the task isn’t done by Dec. 31, the law says the tax will be repealed.

The mayor has vowed the tolls will be gone by September.

Many motorists don’t buy the vows and explanations.

The 35-year-old toll machines are being hit by liquid soap, cherry bombs, razor blades and gum. Other items found include chicken dinner leftovers, marijuana, bras, shrimp, beer cans and women’s underpants.

″We’ve got a real mess out there between now and September,″ said Lou Hazlett, regional toll manager for the Florida Department of Transportation. Motorists, he said, have even opened fire on toll machines. ″We had two of them shot just last week,″ he said.

Toll collectors aren’t faring much better.

″Drivers are throwing plums at them. One grabbed a collector’s arm and then drove off, dragging her out of the booth. Others throw their money on the ground. When you confront them, they say the collector didn’t reach out far enough,″ said Marie Belch, supervisor of the Matthews Bridge toll plaza.

For a time, about 14 percent of those passing through the unmanned lanes weren’t paying the tolls, which translated at one point to $115,000 in lost monthly toll revenue.

Officials responded to that by hiring more off-duty Jacksonville police to issue $52 tickets to those who don’t pay, and officials say that has helped.

Mayor Tommy Hazouri vowed last week, ″If I have to stand on the road and do it myself, those booths will come down in September.″

″Trust me,″ he said.

Hazouri, who campaigned in 1987 on a plank of getting rid of the tolls, is being bombarded with satire.

A local radio station started playing ″Tommy,″ sung to the tune of ″Darlene.″

″We voted you mayor of Jax. Remember it was tolls or tax. Just tell us the truth. Take those dern tolls down. Tommy, please don’t let us down,″ the song goes.

The Florida Times-Union, the local newspaper, runs a small daily item called ″... and counting″ featuring the number of days that both the tax and tolls have been in effect.

″We call it double taxation and they call it co-collection,″ said attorney John Bryant, an opponent of the tax.

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