Maryland Won't Look at Transit Alternatives to $41 Lexus Lanes

Press Release
February 14, 2019
 
The Maryland Dept. of Transportation announced last night that it is dead-set against considering less expensive, more effective transit alternatives to proposed toll lanes and hell-bent on helping Wall Street squeeze sky-high tolls out of commuters' wallets. 
 
The  "screened alternatives" posted on MDOT's website last night eliminated all transit alternatives from study in the environmental analysis that is now underway. MDOT claims that it is still studying transit -- which it’s required to do under federal rules -- because buses will be allowed to use the "Lexus Lanes" the State wants to build.
 
"The arguments MDOT uses to rule out transit don't pass the laugh test," said Ben Ross, chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition. "They admit that if they run more trains, people will be able to avoid traffic jams, but then say that's not good enough because the traffic jams on existing roads will still be there. But adding toll lanes won't remove congestion from existing roads either. In fact, for the toll revenue scheme to work, the state needs to make sure the traffic jams continue—because no one will pay tolls if the free lanes are moving at full speed."
 
"And it's even worse than that" Ross added. "MDOT just assumes that traffic will get worse at the same rate, whether or not we build transit. Resting on that assumption, the state says that transit won't cut traffic and so it isn't worth studying. That's circular reasoning, plain and simple." 
 
Last night's announcement represents a delay of at least two months in the project schedule, On Sunday night, MDOT representatives told the Carderock Springs Citizens Association in Bethesda that the "Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study" will be selected in April and submission of the "Pre-Solicitation Report" to the Board of Public Works would come after that. These events were previously set to occur this month.
 
Ross called on the General Assembly to enact HB 102 (cross-filed as SB 442) to bring the toll lane plan under control. This bill would expand an existing statute, which requires county consent to new toll roads and toll bridges, from the Eastern Shore to the entire state.

 

Pass HB 102 for a Balanced Transportation System

Presented to Hearing on HB 102
Committee on Environment and Transportation
Maryland House of Delegates
February 7, 2019
 

   Current Maryland law enables the Dept. of Transportation to build toll roads with almost no outside checks (aside from approval by the Board of Public Works). HB 102 will require consent of a majority of the counties where the project is built, a rule already in place on the Eastern Shore.

    This local input will help ensure that we move toward a balanced transportation system that works for those who choose to drive and for those who choose not to. Our statewide coalition of transit riders, transit workers and transit advocates strongly endorses this bill.

    The Hogan Administration is moving as fast as it can to commit the state to a vast investment in toll facilities. Their cost estimate for toll lanes on I-270, the Washington Beltway, and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway has jumped from $9 billion two years ago to maybe $13 billion now, and it’s likely to go higher. On top of that is a 3rd Bay Bridge that will cost at least $4 billion and possibly much more.  

    Tolls will be sky-high. We calculate a rush-hour toll from Frederick to Shady Grove of $41. The P3 running the Virginia Beltway already charges tolls this high – $1.50 to $1.80 per mile at the peak of rush hour – and they are losing money. These truly will be Lexus Lanes that serve the rich.

    Few Marylanders will be able to pay such high tolls, so heavy losses are likely and the state will be at great financial risk. The Lexus Lanes will be partially financed with Maryland Transportation Authority bonds. MDOT asserts that MdTA will not be obligated to repay these bonds if the toll revenue falls short, but as a practical matter the state is unlikely to ever let MdTA bonds default.

    In addition, MDOT will be liable for “compensation events.” What these events are, we may not know until the final contract is submitted to the Board of Public Works.

    And how will the new Bay Bridge be paid for? Except on summer weekends, few will use the new bridge if it’s more expensive than the old one. So tolls will need to go up on both.

    What will happen on roads that connect to new toll facilities? St Mary’s, Calvert, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore Counties rightfully fear the traffic from a new Bay Bridge. There are similar concerns for I-70 around Frederick and for highways that cross the proposed toll lanes. How much taxpayer money will be spent trying to fix traffic jams on the connecting roads, and how much good will it do?

    So many questions need answers. HB 102 gives counties the power to demand those answers and to respond effectively if the answers are not good. We urge you to approve this bill.