MD/I-95 toll upgrade near present plaza - ORT + 7/8 lanes or AET proposed

January 10, 2011
By Peter Samuel

A consultants study of upgrade options for the I-95 toll plaza at Perryville in northeast Maryland has suggested going to three lanes of open road tolling plus seven or eight stop-to-pay/cash toll lanes, or else jumping right to all-electronic tolling (AET). At present this is a traditional 12 stop-to-pay lanes tolling northbound only (the Baltimore to Philadelphia/NJ/New York traffic.)

All the toll lanes at Perryville currently take E-ZPass  transponders and the lefthand lanes are almost always operated as E-ZPass-Only. But having the readers retrofitted like this in a traditional plaza traffic with islands and toll booths intact movement makes for relatively slow movement. The toll plaza represents a serious bottleneck at peak times.

The consultants estimate the traditional toll lanes handle an average 350 vehicles/hour versus 2,200 per open road lane.

For toll plaza capacity to match highway capacity a 3 travel-lane highway per direction such as MD/I-95JFK needs 19 traditional toll lanes versus the 12 there now (3 x 2200/350 = 18.8).


RK&K, engineers out of Baltimore, studied  traffic characteristics, conducted public outreach and compared alternative sites for toll collection, modeling different scenarios.

The study for the Maryland state toll authority - MdTA - was in part a response to local politicians trying to move the toll point 18 miles, 30km north on I-95 (east actually) to the state border with Delaware with the thought that this would concentrate the burden of tolls on interstate traffic and relieve the locals of Cecil County of tolls on their trips to Baltimore. 

They also hoped it would reduce diversion of traffic to surface roads.

Cecil County politicians wrong

RK&K's modeling of the effects of moving the toll plaza closer to the Delaware border - as these local politicians have been urging for years - show it would make no sense at all.

The closer the toll plaza goes to Delaware the greater the diversion there is to local roads, the greater the revenue loss to the state toll operator MdTA, and the more travel there is on slower, less safe surface arterials.

The reason: by putting both the Maryland and the Delaware I-95 tolls closer together you compound the incentive to motorists - truckers especially - to divert off the I-95 toll expressway and onto US40, US1, and other local roads.

Toll avoiding motorists don't have to drive as far on these US surface routes to avoid tolls if the I-95 tolls of the two state tollers are placed closer to one another.

Placing them closer together will significantly increase the incentive to divert, the study finds.

The consultants find there is already a small local diversion at the tolled US40 Hatem Bridge now because of special local discounts there, but the fact the closest alternate route is also tolled by MdTA at the Susquehanna River limits that diversion.

The RK&K modeling suggests the diversion could grow to as much as 50% if the Maryland toll point were eliminated in the Perryville stretch of the highway allowing motorists to avoid a Maryland toll altogether by traveling on the untolled parallel routes.

No capacity to handle on alternate surface routes

And there isn't the capacity on the slow surface routes to handle such diversions.

RK&K say: "The capacity of the local roadway network would be insufficient to accommodate the levels of toll avoidance that are indicated by the IBNM model under any option to relocate the plaza."

The toll plaza is best kept in the existing highway segment - close by the Susquehanna River - is the clear conclusion of the study.

Improving toll technology

RK&K suggest the Perryville toll plaza needs highway speed tolling to read transponders and license plates and classify vehicles by axle count based on a gantry that spans three travel lanes with space for a fourth lane, plus shoulders. At 2,200 vehicles/hour per lane that could handle 6.6k veh/hr compared to 30 peak hours averaging 4,945 in 2015, based on a traffic growth of about 10%.

The split between transponders and cash is presently about 55/45 and assumed to grow to 59/41 by 2015.

That 3 lane toll gantry would support all the traffic if cash ceases to be collected and all-electronic tolling is introduced.

If MdTA wants to continue to collect cash, then RK&K recommend either seven or eight cash toll lanes.

Seven existing cash lanes and their booths can be left after demolishing five of the present twelve stop-to-pays. No new construction is needed.

Adding a cash lane for eight, works slightly better handling prospective peak loads - up to 2800 vehs/hr vs 2450 with the seven cash lanes.

With cash collection continued the consultants estimate two ORT lanes could easily handle foreseeable peak volumes of traffic. 

However they recommend matching the general three lane roadway profile through the open road toll point for (1) less lane changing, smoother traffic flows, and (2) so that all-electronic volumes can be handled in future years without the need to lengthen the gantry and change out equipment.

Mainers read this

RK&K argue strongly against attempting to relocate a full ORT + cash toll plaza, as the Maine Turnpike Authority has been doing on I-95 near York ME.

"There are several issues associated with constructing a new toll plaza that would make it an undesirable solution. First, a new toll plaza would require an area that is significantly wider than existing I-95, and therefore would likely require the acquisition of right- of-way and could result in impacts to adjacent properties and environmental resources.

"Similarly, a new toll plaza would require significant construction to provide for the wide toll plaza apron, toll booths, toll plaza canopy, administration building, and other infrastructure. This construction would come at considerable cost and take several years to complete.

"Also, continuing improvements in toll collection technology allow for all toll payments to be made from highway lanes at highway speeds (see all electronic tolling below), and is becoming the standard approach for a number of toll agencies, which may make construction of toll booths unnecessary in the future.

"Finally, the direction provided by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is to remove existing, or at a minimum, avoid constructing new toll booths and toll plazas that could create unsafe conditions on highways." (end quote for Mainers)

RK&K have an outstanding description of how to sequence construction to maintain traffic and tolling through the toll area with minimum disruption - see their 5 Stages diagram nearby.


Traffic and revenue

About 30m trips a year are made on the JFK Highway at Perryville both directions, an average daily 82k. FY2010 (to 6/30) saw 14.75m at the northbound tolling toll plaza. 3 axles and more, mostly trucks  were 1.76m or 12% of the total by number, down 4.4% on FY2009.

2-axle vehicles at the Perryville toll plaza in FY2010 numbered 12.91m up 1.3% on FY2009.

Tolls were increased May 1, 2009 so FY2010 had 12 months of higher tolls that only applied for two months of the previous financial year. On the JFK the Perryville Plaza pulled in a nine-figure sum for the first time - $105.3m, up 12.2% on the $93.8m garnered in FY2009.

Almost all the increase in toll revenues was gotten from truckers. 3+ axles paid $48.1m in tolls in FY2010 or 46% of total tolls and 31% more than the $36.7m they'd paid in FY2009, when they paid 40% of total tolls at Perryville.

The regular toll at the MD/I-95 toll plaza is $5.00 for 2-axle vehicles but motorists subscribing to a Maryland E-ZPass Baltimore Region Discount Plan get zapped only 80c. That covers many commuters.

The tolls now go up steeply with extra axles: 3-axles $15, 4-axles $23, 5-axles $30, 6-axles & more $38. E-ZPass Maryland business customers get a 10% discount if they make more than 100 trips through MdTA toll facilities per month

The John F Kennedy Highway was built with state toll revenue bonds issued in the late 1950s in the great spurt of state tollroad/turnpike construction that followed the years of prosperity after the end of world war two. Opened in 1963 its dedication Nov 14 1963 was President Kennedy's last official act before he died at the hand of an assassin's gun in that motorcade in Dallas TX.

The JFK tollroad provided an expressway standard alternative to US40, a 1920s surface arterial that runs just a  few miles closer to the shore of Chesapeake Bay, and also to US1 about 6 miles, 10km inland.

Designated I-95, the JFK Highway runs from the I-95/I-895 split north of the Baltimore Harbor tunnels at the Baltimore City line about 50 miles, 80km to the Delaware state line where I-95 becomes the Delaware Turnpike.

42 miles of the highway was tolled 1963 to 1982 with coin machine tolls on ramps facing away from mainline toll plaza at every interchange between MD43 in White Marsh, now IC67 just outside the Baltimore Beltway north to the last interchange (IC109) before the Delaware line at MD279. It was therefore a 'closed' toll system. Any vehicle using the JFK Highway in those years paid either a mainline toll or a ramp toll.

The JFK was always a very successful tollroad. It covered operating costs plus debt interest and repayments so well that in less than 20 years the original bonds were paid off. Politicians curried local favor promising to remove the tolls. The Maryland General Assembly backed them, passing a law to end ramp tolls at the time the original bonds were "paid off."  That was popular all along the tollroad.

Tolls were continued at the mainline plaza at Perryville to provide a source of revenue for maintenance and improvements, an argument being it collected a lot of toll money from interstate and longdistance travellers.

In Oct 1991 the plaza went from tolls both directions to northbound tolling only with 12 stop-to-pay toll lanes.

The state has been careful, an official tells us, never to use any federal highway grant money on the JFK so the US Government does not have any legal basis for challenging any move to renew tolls the length of the highway.


During planning in the 1950s, and when constructed, the highway was called the Northeast Expressway. Bit was renamed in his honor shortly after President Kennedy was murdered.

It was initially 2x3 lanes from the Baltimore City line to MD43 in White Marsh and 2x2 lanes the rest of the way to Delaware. An extra lane each direction was added the length of the pike in the early 1970s.

The highway is 2x4 travel lanes from the I-95/895 split to MD24, and from MD24 to the Delaware line it is 2x3 lanes.

MdTA has 4 extra lanes (2x2) under construction in the Baltimore metro area as new toll lanes (HOV3s free)  to make that stretch 12 lanes. And there are plans - with no time schedule - for eventual 4th laning each direction of the remainder of the highway to the Delaware line.

study of I-95 Perryville toll plaza:

on the JFK Highway:

COMMENT: Rather than continuing trying to move tolls into someone else's backyard politicians in Maryland's northeast would better serve their constituents by getting tolls shared more broadly across motorists using the length of the JFK tollroad. The new tolling technologies make it relatively inexpensive to toll at multiple toll points.

One option would be to do all-electronic tolling (AET) at the original toll points - the mainline both directions and the ramps facing away from that mainline so every trip on the JFK would be tolled again. That would be an improvement on the single point toll at Perryville but crude relative to what is possible with AET.

Maryland's soon-to-open Inter County Connector is the modern face of tolling - toll gantries located between each set of interchanges covering every segment of the highway, allowing toll by mile and variable toll rates by time of day to mitigate congestion and minimize diversion when there's spare capacity.

MdTA should implement RK&K's well-argued recommendations for the Perryville plaza, but follow-up with another study on how to spread the toll load the length of the highway. With toll lanes soon to open between the 95/895 split and White Marsh there's an opportunity to integrate pricing of the new toll lanes as far as White Marsh with the rest of what was built as a tollroad all the way north to the Delaware line.

The JFK Highway has eight highway segments between its nine interchanges:

1. Exit 67 at MD43 White Marsh

2. Exit 74 MD152 Joppa, Fallston

3. Exit 77 MD24 Bel Air, Edgewood (narrows 8 to 6 lanes)

4. Exit 80 MD543 Riverside, Churchville

5. Exit 85 MD22 Warwick/Aberdeen

6. Exit 89 MD155 Level Rd, Havre de Grace, (extg TP at MP92)

7. Exit 93 MD222 Perryville, Frenchtown, Pt Deposit

8. Exit 100 MD 272 North East, Rising Sun

9. Exit 109 MD279 Elkton Rd, then DE state line

Full all-electronic tolling of the JFK would require eight toll points or eight sets of gantries to make it a modern turnpike. This is very similar in complexity to Maryland's Inter County Connector Toll Road - the northeast's first AET pike - opening in stages over the next year.

ANOTHER VIEW: a Maryland transportation analyst suggests:

(1) Convert to cashless (AET) tolls at the mainline barrier and at the adjacent US40 Hatem Bridge.

(2) Go back to two-way tolling at the mainline and restore tolling at the ramps, and lower the Perryville mainline tolls accordingly.

(3) For cash customers, allow payment to be made providing license plate number at the two MdTA toll plazas at Chesapeake House and Maryland House (there's more than enough room to allow a roll-down-the-window and pay "mini" toll plaza at both service areas).  Offer cash customers an opportunity to pay the toll there without a mail service charge.

Delaware could do the same thing, allowing customers to pay at its new Delaware House service plaza.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-01-09 EDITS and COMMENT added 2011-01-10 11:00 LIST ICs, another view added 2011-01-11 12:00

Leave a comment: