Gov. Parris N. Glendening killed yesterday his Transportation Department's plan to try opening carpool lanes to toll-paying solo drivers, saying it would be "unfair to link an easier commute with a person's ability to pay."
The state Department of Transportation had planned a pilot study allowing lone drivers to pay a toll to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes, essentially buying their way out of traffic congestion.
High-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are in use in California, Texas and New Jersey, and advocates praise them as a more efficient way to manage traffic while raising money for transit projects.
Critics dub them "Lexus lanes" and dismiss them as favoring motorists with fat wallets, a concern Glendening said he shares.
"If you could pay another $4 or $5 a day for a less congested lane, you don't have to fight the same kind of traffic," he said. "It's an unfair approach. Our goal is to have cars with multiple riders, not just cars of people with more money."
Advocates of HOT lanes said yesterday that they were deeply disappointed by Glendening's decision.
"I'm just baffled, because this is a tool to manage congestion," said Daniel Pontious, director of the Baltimore Regional Partnership. He called the governor's decision "incredibly shortsighted."
Supporters say the money raised by the tolls helps pay for buses and other forms of transit, multiplying the benefits for commuters.
"This decision slams the door on a way out of traffic jams for thousands of commuters and cuts off some promising innovations that could help us cut congestion and air pollution," said Michael Replogle of Environmental Defense in Washington.
"This is a dumb transportation decision that will undermine Smart Growth," he said, adding that the decision was made suddenly.
Glendening denied that. The idea had been under study since 1999, and Glendening said he has expressed concerns about it from the start.
The governor said he decided to block the proposal yesterday after reading aWashington Post article about the transportation agency's plans to test the HOT lanes in Prince George's County.
The state had until July 1 to complete a grant application seeking $10 million in federal funds to create toll lanes on U.S. 50 between U.S. 301 and the Capital Beltway.
Criticism from legislators and others prompted state officials this year to postpone public meetings on plans to test the idea at the Prince George's site, at Interstate 270 from the Capital Beltway to Interstate 70, and at the Bay Bridge.
Two years ago, a survey by AAA found that 58 percent of Maryland drivers who were questioned opposed the idea.
Lon Anderson, spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic AAA office, applauded Glendening's decision.
"They were on the verge of creating a two-tiered transportation system based on one's ability to pay," he said. "Rich or poor, you've paid for those roads."