UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - For the first time Tuesday night, Maryland drivers got to weigh in on a proposal to bring toll lanes to the Beltway.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan first announced the historic initiative, which would be privately funded, in September. He cited AAA, which estimates Marylanders have the second-worst commute in the nation behind New York City.
The Maryland Department of Transportation would like to add two toll lanes in each direction to the entirety of Interstate 495 on Maryland’s side, and then add two toll lanes in each direction to Interstate 270 from Interstate 495 to Frederick.
That is one option drivers can weigh in on. This would require the highway to be widened and affecting properties along both interstates.
“We know the public is going to be concerned about potentially any impacts to their property,” explained Jeffrey Folden, deputy director of the I-495 & I-270 P3 Office for the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration. “That’s why we are doing this now, so we can understand what the public wants and start developing these alternatives to try to minimize any impacts to the public and make sure we are really improving their quality of life overall.”
So what is this going to cost taxpayers? MDOT said nothing because of their public-private partnership (known as a P3). MDOT puts up the initial funds, then a private company comes in, effectively pays that money back and puts up the rest of the money for the full construction project. The private company assumes the risk and get the profit from the tolls.
But would Maryland drivers pay for a faster commute?
“I’m on the fence on both sides of that,” said commuter Bobbie Simmons. “Yes, because I deal with it every day. No, because I don’t really want to pay for it. But I think that is where we are going in this area with HOT lanes and things of that nature. Of course we have them in Virginia. You have to do something to get the traffic going in this area.”
“I think a lot of people might just try and take alternative roads,” added Connie Puryear, who has retired, but frequently commutes to visit family. “It would take longer and you would go through little developments. But if you don’t have money to pay for a toll, that is what you are going to do. Depending on if I am in a big hurry, I probably would go through the tolls. It’s like paying for gas. You need the gas, so if you are going on a road that has tolls, you pay the tolls.”
Economically, AAA estimates the project will make Maryland more competitive with Virginia and ease traffic in all lanes as drivers spread out.
Those opposed to the project believe more roads are only a temporary congestion fix and that the state should put more emphasis on public transit.
“It’s not all highway or all transit,” added Gary Hodge with the Southern Maryland Alliance for Rapid Transit. “But if we don’t act now to weave an effective transit system into the highway network, then those opportunities will be closed to us. So it needs to be an integrated comprehensive solution.”
For more information about the project, including upcoming public forums, go to 495-270-P3.com.