Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Your Chance to Weigh In on Maryland's New Toll Lane Plan

Maryland residents are being given their first opportunity to provide public comment on Governor Hogan's $7.5billion plan to build new toll lanes on I-270, the Capital Beltway, and across the American Legion Bridge.

Last September Governor Hogan announced his plan to build a 40 mile network of express toll lanes along I-270 and I-495.  The plan's stated purpose is to reduce traffic congestion.  However the lanes would likely be "congestion priced", meaning tolls would be variable and could rise arbitrarily high, and other congestion priced projects such as the I-66 toll lanes in Virginia have recently drawn criticism for allowing tolls to routinely rise above $40 for 10 mile trip.

More information about the plan is available on the I-495 and I-270 P3 Program Website.  Four "open houses" on the project have been scheduled in which the public will be given the opportunity to provide in-person comment:
Tuesday, April 17, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School
12650 Brook Lane
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772

Wednesday, April 18, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Clarksburg High School
22500 Wims Road
Clarksburg, MD 20871

Thursday, April 19, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Bethesda Chevy Chase High School
4301 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

Tuesday, April 24, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Eleanor Roosevelt High School
7601 Hanover Parkway
Greenbelt, MD 20770

The public can also send written comments to:
The I-495 & I-270 Project Office
707 North Calvert Street
Baltimore MD 21202

or by email to: 495-270-P3@sha.state.md.us

Toll roads have their place, and this project has the potential to alleviate the region's crushing traffic congestion.  However express toll lanes are not without costs for the public.  They constitute an enormous use of eminent domain and public resources that could have been used for other purposes.  The purpose of toll roads should be to reduce regional traffic congestion, not to spare only the extremely wealthy from the tax on their time which a lack of investment in our roads creates.  The purpose of such roads must certainly not be to simply enrich private companies.  In the best case these roads could ease travel for many motorists, but there is also the potential that an improperly implemented express lane plan would create a financial incentive for public officials to ignore worsening traffic congestion on the non-tolled roads in order to force people into paying excessive tolls.  

Drivers in Maryland were recently treated to a significant increase in the state gas tax, and we are entitled to see public funds spent building more non-tolled roads and road improvements.  

If new express toll lanes are to be built, it must be with the intention of reducing congestion on ALL roads, not just to maintain an arbitrary speed within the toll lanes.  Ideally congestion pricing should NOT be used.  Congestion pricing is generally a bad deal for motorists, because its purpose is literally to tax them off the road.  Instead tolls should be set at a rate deemed reasonable for average motorists motorists so that commuters can plan their daily trip with full knowledge of the cost in advance.

If "congestion priced" tolls will nevertheless be used, then it should be set at a level which maximizes total traffic flow, not just flow within the toll lanes.  Motorists should insist that if congestion priced tolls are used they must always be CAPPED at a reasonable price per mile, such that motorists won't be charged prices ordinary people cannot afford for a short trip.  Elected officials must be the ones accountable to voters for setting toll rates, not an un-elected board or a private company.  Elected officials should specifically be accountable if the maximum price per mile is one the average voter cannot afford: if members of the state legislature are unwilling to put their name next to a toll rate then it is too high.  And motorists should receive a guarantee, written into law, that the revenue from any express toll project will be invested exclusively into ROADS, including improvements in non-tolled roads, not siphoned off to other projects.

Additional Information:
Official Public Notice from FHWA
I-495 and I-270 P3 Program official website
WTOP: Public gets chance to weigh in on Md. toll lane plans