Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it so important to build more rail lines?
Passenger rail is a proven catalyst for economic growth and job creation. The growing demand for living and working space in walkable downtowns is driving the pattern of private-sector investment in metropolitan areas today. Rail transit responds to this demand because it doesn’t disrupt city streets as highways do. Trains move people at far lower cost than driving, and don’t congest the roads or pollute the air.  

Buses are a vital part of Maryland’s transit system, but they cannot replace trains as the backbone of the system. A single train carries as many passengers as a fleet of buses, bringing less operating cost, less pollution, and less disruption of downtown streets. The smoother ride and better public image of rail transit attracts more riders than buses.

Trains run easily in tunnels, a necessity for rapid travel through major cities like Baltimore.  Elsewhere, we can take advantage of rail infrastructure we have inherited. MARC’s rail corridors already connect to smaller downtowns like Rockville, Gaithersburg, Frederick and Laurel.   Similarly, the Southern Maryland Light Rail will pass through Waldorf on an adjacent rail right-of-way.

What is the cost of Governor Hogan’s plan to build Lexus lanes on I-270, the Washington Beltway, and Baltimore-Washington Parkway?
When the governor announced his plan in September 2017, he said it would cost $9 billion. Since then, the plan keeps changing, but the $9 billion number mysteriously stays the same. This figure is surely far too low.

Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn told the Washington Post in 2016 that just one part of the plan, I-270 north of Shady Grove and the American Legion Bridge, would cost over $8 billion. In 2004, the State Highway Administration looked at options for widening the Beltway. It found that to add four more lanes, at least two of them would have to be elevated above the existing road. SHA rejected this option, declaring that “Construction costs are prohibitively high. Interchange ramps connecting to the elevated structure may be over 80 feet high.”

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement estimated the toll lane construction cost for a part of the overall plan: the Beltway from the American Legion Bridge to Branch Avenue and I-270 from the Beltway to Shady Grove. The cost was first calculated based on the MDOT SHA Highway Construction Cost Estimating Manual, using the lowest allowable contingency percentage (25%; the manual recommends a range of 25% to 40%). The result of this calculation, which MDOT refuses to disclose, was apparently too high to justify the toll lanes. So the agency arbitrarily lowered its cost estimates for the various versions of the toll lanes to between $9 billion and $10 billion. The only justification offered for this manipulation was unexplained “assumed efficiencies.”

Won't the new lanes be paid for by tolls?
No. Tolls can’t pay for the high cost of new highway lanes. Even if the new Intercounty Connector meets its traffic projections – far from a sure thing – only one-third of the cost will be covered by tolls on that road. The rest will come from taxpayers and from tolls collected elsewhere in Maryland.

The numbers are even worse for toll lanes on existing highways. Almost no one will pay a toll when the free lanes next to them aren’t backed up, so the bulk of the revenue must be collected in rush hour.

Experience elsewhere confirms that tolls cannot pay for express toll lanes. The Virginia Beltway express toll lanes have only recently taken in enough toll revenue to cover operating expenses, let alone start paying off the interest and principal on the cost of building them. Toll road projects are falling short of revenue projections all over the country, and there have already been bankruptcies in Indiana and Texas.

Who says there will be a $50 toll to drive from Frederick to Shady Grove?
The traffic experts at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments calculated that drivers will pay $49.63 to go one way from Frederick to Shady Grove in the morning rush hour if toll lanes are built on I-270. They are the experts who create the traffic model used by all governments in the region.

The Maryland Dept. of Transportation hid this bombshell revelation deep in the fine print of its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the toll lane project. MDOT refuses to show the public its own calculations of future rush-hour tolls.

The MWCOG calculation is buried on page 883 of Appendix C of the environmental report. It says the morning rush-hour toll from MD Route 85 in Frederick to I-370 in Shady Grove will be $2.26 per mile. Multiplying that by the 21.96 mile length of the trip gives a total of $49.63. The cost of the return trip in the afternoon is not given, but it is likely to be even higher because congestion is worse in the afternoon rush hour.

With Maryland gas tax revenues declining, where's the money going to come from to implement your plan?
Over the years, Marylanders of all political points of view have joined together to fund infrastructure. In 2003, Governor Ehrlich and the legislature joined to fund the $2 billion Intercounty Connector. In 2013, Governor O'Malley and the legislature enacted a gasoline tax package to fund the Purple Line, the Red Line, and needed road maintenance. There is no reason to think that this transformative transit package could not be paid for over the next 10 to 15 years with the help of federal aid.

What makes you think the Congress is going to appropriate enough money to start a big new transit infrastructure program?
There is a broad consensus across the political spectrum that the United States must spend more on infrastructure--including mass transit and passenger rail infrastructure--if we are to build a strong economy at home and compete internationally. We don't know when the political logjam on Capitol Hill will break, but when it does Maryland must be prepared to use federal funding to build new transit infrastructure that will grow our economy and protect our environment.

Will Maryland highways become intolerably crowded if we don't widen them?
Very unlikely. Traffic has stopped growing, nationally and in Maryland, over the past decade. I-270 traffic (measured just south of Montrose Road) is an example:

traffic graph of I-270 at south of Montrose Road
Isn't fixing the existing Metro system the highest transit priority for the metropolitan Washington region?
Metro must be fixed, but that isn't enough. Our goal is a multi-modal, comprehensive and coordinated transportation network that provides safe and efficient rapid transit service to connect communities across Maryland's metropolitan areas. We cannot stand still if we want to build a competitive world-class economy with prosperous, thriving, and livable communities--in Maryland.