WASHINGTON – Maryland Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead said Wednesday that privatizing roads and collecting tolls electronically are among the top funding alternatives being studied for future transportation projects.
“We are constrained,” Winstead told a panel of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “At some point, you have to look to other ways of funding.”
Electronic tolls, collected from drivers moving at normal speeds, would use monthly computation tickets and an electronic prompter attached to the windshield, Winstead said.
The tolls could be “congestion priced,” meaning costs would increase during peak hours of traffic and sink at other times.
The state DOT hopes to have some operational by mid-1997, with the first ones proposed for three Baltimore harbor crossings, he said.
In the past, conventional tolls have been a constant source of congestion, Winstead said. Electronic ones would solve both traffic and financial difficulties, he said.
“We need to look at the reality that some transportation projects are going to be built with electronic toll collection,” Winstead said.
Figures are not available on how much the electronic tolls would cost or how much money they could generate, said Liz Kalinowski, a spokeswoman for the Maryland DOT.
Winstead said he also envisions the private sector funding more transportation projects.
“I think you’re going to see … functions that can be handled better by the private sector,” he said. Winstead said the Dulles Greenway in Fairfax County and express lanes on Route 91 in Orange County, Calif., were privately funded.
He also outlined the challenges and opportunities facing the Washington area.
“What we can do better together is to look at the options available,” Winstead said. “We can make improvements and help the public understand our constraints.”
Winstead called on the regional council to “take the lead in an honest evaluation of transportation in the Washington metropolitan area.”
D.C. Council member Harry Thomas, chairman of COG’s transportation planning board, agreed working together is critical. He said the District is “at the core of the region,” but said that all the counties are intertwined.
Winstead stressed a commitment to preserving existing infrastructure and developing expansion projects that take into account the community and environment.
Roughly one-half of the state Department of Transportation’s $5.4 billion, six-year budget is targeted to maintaining infrastructure, Kalinowski said. The other half will go toward future development.
“We haven’t sacrificed in Maryland,” Winstead said.
He also spoke of traffic congestion and the safety hazards it causes.
The Federal Highway Administration ranked Maryland second in the nation in 1992 for congestion on major urban roads. Forty- nine percent of the state’s 1,339 miles of road suffered congestion at the time of the study.
The Capital Beltway and I-95 near Washington and I-270 in Montgomery County have frequent backups, Kalinowski said.
“If we can work together to limit gridlock in the future,” Winstead said, “all the better.” He said studies on High Occupancy Vehicle lanes for the Capital Beltway and I-270, which would be reserved for vehicles with two or more people traveling in them, are underway and should yield solutions. -30-