Maryland ICC First Dynamically Priced Pike Pushed
By Peter Samuel
First Dynamically Priced Pike Pushed
Maryland seems likely to see construction of the countrys first dynamically priced toll road. A panel set up by the state governor to advise him on the controversial Intercounty Connector (ICC) in Montgomery County just north of the District of Columbia favors a 2x2-lane low-impact toll road based on variable pricing to guarantee free flow conditions. The road might also be a US first in using a combination of transponders and license plate readers for tolling (like Torontos 407) as it has always been envisaged as a toll road without any on-site toll collection.
The governors panel called the Transportation Solutions Group (TSG) voted 8 to 4 at a meeting Feb 19 in favor of the innovative pike which would extend some 28km (17.5mi) from I-370 spur off I-270 in Shady Grove/Gaithersburg east to I-95 and US-1 near Laurel. This is an east-west link between the northwesterly heading I-270 and the northeasterly heading I-95 and
US-1 corridors. It is located 5km to 10km (3.5-6mi) north of the northern section of the Washington Beltway (I-495). As well as linking the two major radial corridors it will also pick up other major north-south arterials forming a higher quality road network through the heart of the 800k-pop county, one of the highest income areas of the 6m-pop Washington-Baltimore area. The eastern end is inside adjacent Prince Georges county and the facility will greatly improve travel times to Baltimore-Washington Airport to the immediate northeast in Anne Arundel Co, and to the areas motorway network.
Kenneth Orski, a leading local transp consultant and member of the governors panel told us: The favored plan represents a compromise between those who oppose any new road and a full-fledged freeway sized to cater fully to projected (unpriced) demand. It will be a pioneering project because the panel is fully persuaded that only by using pricing in a creative way will it be possible to finance the road and also to contain demand to the dimensions of a road that we believe will have minimal environmental impact.
The panel heard detailed presentations from Steve Lockwood of Parsons Brinckerhoff and other road pricing experts on variable pricing projects such as San Diego I-15, Orange Co CA91-Express, and Sonoma County CA/US-101. Studies for MDOT have shown that without tolls traffic would range between 80k and 130k veh/day by the design year.
Some MDOT modeling proposed simple peak/off-peak toll rates of 11/1.1c/mi cars to 44c/4.4c/mi 5-axle trucks, but the TSG panel favors full dynamic tolling along the lines of San Diegos I-15 HOT lanes.
Orski says that the panel is proposing to set a level of service (probably LOS-C) as the maximum congestion allowable under normal daily operations. Tolls will be adjusted dynamically to prevent entry of vehicles beyond a level at which LOS would be degraded below C.
It will have to be priced because otherwise at this size (just 4-lanes) the road would be congested the day it opened, says Orski.
There is a partial precedent for the approach recommended for the MD-ICC in Virginias I-66 inside the Beltway. This was originally to be a 6 and 8-lane freeway but was trimmed to 4-lanes as part of an early-1980s compromise with anti-roads groups. But the only measure taken on I-66 to combat overcrowding was to make the road HOV in rush hours, and it is now getting saturated at HOV-2. VDOT faces the alternatives of going to HOV-3 (and putting its 2-occupant vehicles onto alternate routes), going to HOT with toll buy-in, or widening the road.
It is unclear whether the TSG panel for MD-ICC will recommend toll-free rides for HOVs making it technically a HOTway or simply be a dynamically priced toll road which will allow buses and other transit an exemption from tolls. Preliminary forecasts done for MDOT suggested that the 2x3-lane project would not be viable with HOV2s- free tolls only on SOVs. The panel faces the problem that the more generous the HOV exemptions the less revenue the road will generate and the more abruptly tolls will have to vary to manage level of service.
The TSG proposal is a scaled down version of a 2x3-lane highway which emerged as the MDOT favored alternative of transp planners from the major investment study/enviro impact statement (MIS/EIS) process early 1998. The MDOT plan involved 2 unrestricted lanes and an HOVL each side astride a 72' (22m) grassed median making for a footprint of 164' (50m) edge to edge. The Governors panel plan is for a tight pike, 2x2 tolled lanes with a minimal 12' (3.65m) median for a total road width of only 80' (24.4m) - just half the MDOT scheme (see section bottom of page).
The governors panel profile will almost fit within the median of the MDOT scheme!
Cost of the MDOT road which included 7 interchanges and bridging over 5 stream valleys was put at $1,090m ($6.5m/lane-km, $10m/lane-mi). The MDOT scheme was remarkable for its lack of detailed attention to minimizing impacts on the heavily wooded stream valleys which were the environmentalists rallying cry against the road.
USEPA wrote a blistering attack on the MDOT project as involving the take of 158 acres of park lands, the break up of the largest contiguous forested area in the county, the disturbance of 58 acres of wetland, and the elimination of a trout spawning area. The inflammatory language of the USEPA attack encouraged the state to order the master plan alignment to be dropped, provoking an upsurge of opposition from residents who would be affected by the other alignments further north. Parris Glendening, the state governor then (3/98) suddenly announced withdrawal of support for the whole idea of a highway through the area, though in the following election campaign he modified his position again to say he had not ruled out a road and would wait on the advice of his TSG panel.
The governors panel is recommending adherence to the masterplan alignment, which maximizes transport benefits while minimizing the need to take private property. By reducing roadway widths and using high longspan bridging, built from above, it hopes to avoid any of the wildlands/wetlands devastation predicted by the over-wrought USEPA officials of the previous MDOT scheme. The panel heard accounts of the Glenwood Canyon CO I-70 and Honolulu H3 bridging works which successfully assuaged moderate enviro-criticism.
Opinion surveys in the region have consistently shown 75% to 80% public support for the new road. The AAA strongly supports it, as do business groups and most transport specialists. Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan came out in strong support of the TSG scheme of a parkway-like road, saying it is essential, but the county council also contains several strong anti-road/anti-growth people. The WASHINGTON POST supports the road in editorials but its reporters seem more interested in pie-in-the-sky rail schemes that studies show will attract scant custom and generate trivial revenue.
MDOT was singularly inept in its treatment of the stream valley crossings in the MIS/EIS process, and then in abandoning the county master plan reservation last year. The roadway reservation has been in place for over 40 years so almost no houses or other buildings have to be demolished. It is mostly at 300' (90m) and more in width so with earth berms or sound walls the traffic in its new compact central configuration will hardly be detectable by nearby residents.
The TSG panel as well as favoring the 2x2-lane tight-pike is prescribing a package of measures to mitigate opposition. The road traverses the already developed middle of the county, so suggestions it will encourage much unwanted growth are implausible, but the panel suggests planning controls at interchanges, and possible urban growth boundaries.
Orski says the panel may recommend measures to discourage use of the pike for short trips. The panels draft conclusion document endorses several transitway proposals though it stesses these must be cost-effective which could be taken as a shot at talk of a circumferential metro line (the so-called Purple line) that has been costed at $4b.
Also significant is that the draft conclusions paper of the TSG panel endorses the extension of dynamic pricing to other major roads in the area: Variable pricing should also be considered on existing and planned HOV lanes. While some of these measures are politically difficult, it will provide incentives for travelers to share rides (to share expenses), to use public transit, to drive shorter distances, and at less congested times. It will also regulate travel flows to insure freeflowing facilities for essential travel, even during peak travel periods.
Obvious candidates for pricing will be the existing and planned extended HOV lanes on I-270, the programmed HOV lanes on I-495, and possible bus/HOV lanes on US-29 and I-95.
Guv Glendening has taken so many different positions on this road, one local wag commented that it made him wonder if the Karmasutra isnt his favorite bedtime reading. But then, to be fair to the guy, this political bitch of a road has presented itself in so many shapes and sizes it is little wonder he gets turned on and off, then on again.
Glendening has consistently said he doesnt want an I-270 cutting straight through Montgomery county a reference to the 200'-wide and 12-lanes of unrelieved pavement and masonry walls of the northwesterly radial freeway between the Beltway and Gaithersburg which is one of those infuriatingly redundant politicians remarks because no one ever proposed more than 6-lanes for the ICC, or that it be bulldozed in a straight line. But it is probably his way of saying he could support a nicer littler windy road in among trees and grass - the tight pike in the parkway setting that his panel is suggesting?
His TSG panel is adamant in the draft conclusions paper that Montgomery Countys congestion problems are a serious threat to the regions quality of life and economic prosperity, and that various trip reduction strategies, planning controls and transit will by themselves be inadequate. At the same time, the paper says, roadway capacity cannot be increased sufficiently to allow free flowing, free road travel. No tax funding is programmed for the ICC in the next 20-years either. So there has to be pricing of the road.
It says the only realistic course is to choose the most effective elements of both road and non-road solutions. The panel is chaired by Thomas Deen, a veteran official and consultant. He has been careful so far not to state any personal view as part of an effort to forge a consensus within the governors panel. The final report is expected by July. (Contact Gloria Shephard 410 865 1131)