ANNAPOLIS Drivers who want to speed past traffic on Maryland roadways might soon get the chance, but itll cost them.
Maryland legislators gave the green light last week to the Department of Transportation to study the creation of high occupancy toll lanes. Commuters could pay a toll to use HOT lanes instead of lingering in nearby gridlock. DOT has to submit its report to the General Assembly in November. The idea is to relieve congestion and to make the lanes useful to as many people as possible, said Valerie Burnette, spokeswoman with the State Highway Administration. If its not a viable option, we will state that in our decision. The State Highway Administration will consider HOT lanes for I- 495, I-95 and I-270 for the transportation departments report, she said. I-270 has had high occupancy vehicle lanes for two years, and they are shaving up to 70 minutes a week off carpoolers commute time. According to HOT lane stipulations, drivers with a designated number of passengers could use the lanes for free, as if they were HOV lanes. Other single commuters could pay a toll to drive in them. Given the congestion we have in this area, we need to look at all possibilities, said Delegate John Slade, D-St. Marys, chairman of the transportation subcommittee that recommended the DOT study.
While transportation researchers credit the lanes with lowering traffic levels and increasing highway and transit revenue, critics claim that the toll roads favor higher income drivers.
There has been some criticism that these are the Mercedes lanes, but almost everyone whos interested in speed uses them, said John Robin Witt, a spokesman with the California Department of Transportation. California has HOT lanes in Orange County and San Diego and is considering creating them on four other roads throughout the state.
The data shows that there is a little bit of a skew towards higher income people, but its very small, said John Berg, with the Federal Highway Administration. People value their time no matter what the income.
Houston and Boston both use HOT lanes, and five other states are considering them, according to a report by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
To investigate the benefits of the toll lanes, SHA will review other states case studies, including funding and pricing,
In both California programs, the price charged to single occupant cars varies depending on the level of traffic on the roads. The price increases as the toll lanes fill up. The maximum toll in San Diego can be as much as $8 one way if the traffic in the lanes is high.
Maryland commuters might be willing to pay the high price for the ease of speeding by the traffic.
Taking the Metro into Washington recently, Bion Howard, 48, said he avoids driving on I-495 during the day because of the traffic levels, but he said he would reconsider driving if the toll road opened.
I think a toll would make sense, the Harwood resident said. It might convince people on the Beltway to carpool, and those people that wouldnt (carpool) would pay for the maintenance and creation of the lanes.
New Carrollton resident Tanya Liverman said she takes the Metro to her Bethesda job every day because she doesnt want to brave Beltway traffic but might change her mind if the toll lanes opened.
(I might drive) depending on if its a reasonable cost or not, the 28-year-old said. I would have to pay not only the toll, but also parking. She said she pays approximately $3.50 a day on Metro and bus fares.
Not everyone is interested in fleeing the congestion.
I think we should just drive for free, said Jim Dudzinsky, 31, who works in Prince Frederick. I wouldnt pay to use those lanes. Im tight (with money). The transportation subcommittee also wanted the study to look at working with the Virginia Department of Transportation to form a regional network of HOT lanes along the Capital Beltway.
But plans to look at the creation of HOT lanes in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia near Norfolk stalled recently with lack of enthusiasm for the issue, according to Lynda South, public affairs director for VDOT.
It would take quite a bit to make HOT lanes, she said. We would have to build toll booths and staff them. Where would the money come from? Theres a lot of issues there, and it would require a lot of work.