Maryland confirms express toll lanes for Wash Beltway, Balt Beltway, I-270, I-95 v2

May 6, 2004
By Peter Samuel

Maryland's transport secretary Robert L. Flanagan officially unveiled plans for express toll lanes (ETLs) May 4 saying it was a "vision for Maryland highways to ease congestion... on many of the state's busiest highways." Express Toll Lanes (ETLs) would offer motorists the option of paying a toll "to travel on lanes that are relatively congestion free."  The toll, collected electronically at highway speeds, would vary depending on time of day to manage capacity "and insure relatively congestion free travel," the press statement said.

This was part of a major Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) presentation which also included a press conference with Flanagan and senior officials, release of a brochure, and posting of a website devoted to ETLs called "Maryland's Express Toll Lanes Initiative" - see http://www.mdot.state.md.us/ETL/Express%20Toll%20Lanes%20Index

The website allows the brochure to be downloaded and contains definitions, case studies, links to highway studies where ETLs are now being proposed, and the familiar FAQs (frequently asked questions).

Flanagan at his press conference in Greenbelt MD (near the Capital Beltway) stressed that ETLs would create new "options" and "choices" for people to get past congestion. Many would find that "the opportunity to drive on a congestion-free lane is well worth paying for."

A senior official told us that Secretary Flanagan went beyond the four major projects (I-495, I-270, Kennedy Highway and I-695) recommended by SHA and MdTA, and decided to add two more which they had held back. These are (1) MD5, a 15km (9mi) motorway spur off the Washington Beltway in its southeast segment connecting to US301 in Brandywine MD, and (2) I-95 between the Washington and Baltimore beltways. These have been added the list of highways on which express toll lanes should be studied.

Maryland governor Robert Ehrlich is quoted endorsing the express toll lanes initiative: "This Administration is serious about fighting traffic congestion. I recognize that to achieve significant near-term improvement, we must develop new approaches and look at new ways of funding the extremely costly projects that can reduce traffic congestion.  Express Toll Lanes can provide commuters with a choice when they need it most, like making an important business meeting or picking up a child at day-care."

ETLs are envisaged where lanes are added to an existing highway to increase capacity. The statement says that toll lanes will be considered immediately on the Capital Beltway (I-495), I-270, the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) and the Kennedy Highway (I-95 north of Baltimore City).

Secretary Flanagan said: "Express Toll Lanes would help both those motorists who choose to use them and those who remain in the general use lanes. The toll lanes would draw vehicles off the general use lanes, producing some congestion relief for those who remain in the free lanes. Equally important is the fact the Express Toll Lanes would allow us to be able to afford the cost of adding lanes decades before it would be possible using traditional funding."

Under the heading "Who can benefit..." the MDOT materials say: "Express Toll Lanes give people the option of paying a fee for something they can count on: more reliable travel times when they need to get where they are going on time. All kinds of drivers will choose to use the Express Toll Lanes when the benefit of reliable travel is worth more to them than the cost. Examples of those who benefit include:

* A parent who needs a reliable

travel time to pick up a child atdaycare

* A delivery company that must stay on schedule throughout the day

* Individuals who ride buses thattravel on controlled access highways

* A service technician working tomake more service calls in a day

* A taxicab or van service driver makingtrips to and from the airport

* An employee trying to get to a meeting on time."

(They forgot making it ontime to the romantic rendezvous.)

Maryland's urban roadways are among the most congested in the country, the officials said. While road capacity has increased only four percent since 1995 vehicle-miles traveled have risen 20%.

State Highway administrator Neil J. Pedersen said that toll lanes not only provide a fundable option for widening the state's busiest highways but "they provide a tool to manage congestion" through varying the toll rate during the day.

Thomas Osbourne exec-sec of the Maryland Transportation (toll) Authority (MdTA) in his comments emphasized open road tolling as the technological advance which makes express toll lanes possible. He called it "a step beyond" the convenience offered by the E-ZPass electronic toll collection system retrofitted into cash toll collection at the seven existing toll facilities in the state (4 bridges, 2 tunnels and the Kennedy Highway). Osbourne said that "we are very excited" about the possibility of implementing express toll lanes and highway speed electronic toll collection.

Press coverage of the proposal has been quite positive. The WASHINGTON POST report was couched in the context of toll lanes gaining in support nationally following several years of successful operation in California and Texas. A AAA Mid-Atlantic poll of Washington area motorists showed support for toll lanes, and Lon Anderson policy director at AAA said his organization came to support them because there was "no hope of building (extra capacity) with public funding (tax monies)."

Pedersen confirmed that high occupancy vehicles (HOVs) will be given no special deals as in HOT lanes, because distinguishing them from single person vehicles is too difficult for enforcement personnel. In California and Texas HOVs generally get free rides. Maryland is the second state to propose toll express lanes in which all vehicles are tolled. Minnesota is going for similar toll express lanes under the brand name FAST Lanes. (see www.dot.state.mn.us/fastlanes/index.html)

Pedersen has said that he and colleagues spent considerable time thinking about the best terminology before selecting "express toll lanes." He said they found the term "managed lanes" as used in Texas is too vague.

Likely sequence

Furthest along and least liable to run into problems for toll express lanes is the Kennedy Highway (I-95) north of Baltimore City. Construction by the MdTA is scheduled to start in 2006 and it could have ETLs operating within five or six years. The first stage of reconstruction with ETLs is a $625m project. I-270 and the Capitol Beltway (I-495) would be next with construction starting in perhaps 2008. These are $2b+ projects each. Design of the widened Capitol Beltway will be the more contentious and difficult because of the tight right of way and sharp curves. The Baltimore Beltway (I-695) already has segments wide enough for ETLs in a couple of segments, and it has environmental permits for extra lanes (envisaged as HOV lanes.) The major problem there is stitching together long enough segments to make toll lanes worthwhile.

We have our doubts about whether ETLs will work on MD5 and I-95 between-the-beltways, because they aren't all that congested - but both are worth studying for their potential down the track as traffic increases.

Orski hails the initiative

Kenneth Orski, a veteran transport policy man (see www.innobriefs.com) has some important observations: "Contributing to legitimizing market-priced toll lanes is a changing political environment. The days when politicians considered tolls an anathema are largely over. Both the House and the Senate in their reauthorization bills have proposed to liberalize conversion of carpool (HOV) lanes into high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes and to authorize states to add toll lanes to crowded Interstate highways. State and local elected officials are also warming up to tolls.. Locally, toll lanes received considerable political boost from an influential group of private sector organizations in Northern Virginia, named REGION. Its resolution urges Virginia's elected leaders to 'direct, encourage and provide necessary resources' to develop a network of express toll lanes utilizing Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995... We commend Maryland's Transportation Secretary Flanagan and State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen, and Virginia's Transportation Secretary Whittington W. Clement and Commissioner Philip Shucet for their leadership, political courage and initiative concerning express toll lanes. Thanks to them, the concept of traffic relief through voluntary market-based toll systems has taken a giant step forward."

The WASHINGTON POST (2004-05-04) listed the following active toll proposals in the Washington DC metro area:

MARYLAND

Capital Beltway: Maryland is considering whether to create express toll lanes along the 42 miles of highway linking the American Legion and Wilson bridges.

Interstate 270: The state is considering a variety of rail and pavement options, including express toll lanes, to ease congestion on the highway linking northwest suburbs and the Washington area.

Baltimore Beltway: The state will study whether express toll lanes can ease traffic congestion along I-695, the 52-mile highway ring around Baltimore.

Interstate 95: The state is studying options, including express toll lanes, for easing congestion along the eight miles between the Baltimore city line and White Marsh.

Intercounty connector: Maryland is considering tolls on the proposed highway linking I-270 in Gaithersburg and I-95 in Laurel.

VIRGINIA

I-95/I-395: A private company, Fluor Virginia, has proposed building and operating toll lanes along the 56 miles of interstate between Washington and Massaponax. These lanes -- as well as those considered in the other state proposals -- would be available to carpoolers for free and to solo motorists willing to pay the toll for a faster trip.

Capital Beltway: The Virginia Department of Transportation would team with Fluor-Daniel, a sister company of Fluor Virginia, to build two high-occupancy toll lanes in each direction, stretching between 14 miles west of the Springfield interchange and the Tysons Corner area.

I-95: Another private company, Clark/SCC/KPRI, has made a proposal to convert carpool lanes to HOT lanes south of the Springfield interchange and extend them 36 miles, almost to Fredericksburg. TOLLROADSnews 2004-05-06 v2:2004-05-07


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