Public feedback on I-95 express toll lanes largely negative

Maryland Transportation Authority releases public comments

November 18, 2013|By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

The new express toll lanes set to open next year along Interstate 95 north of Baltimore are not popular among the residents who have shared their opinion with the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Of the 73 public responses submitted, mostly online, to the authority since it released its proposed toll rates in September and asked for feedback, 80 percent were in opposition, according to a final summary of the public's responses released last week.

Another 19 percent were considered "neutral" comments, and just 1 percent supported the project.

"Many of the comments spoke to the expensive cost of the [lanes], along with other increases and taxes the public of Maryland has had to deal with in the last few years," according to the summary.

The authority's "perception" of the comments, the summary said, was that respondents felt "the previous toll increases and gas tax increase should cover the construction cost of the lanes and that the roadway should be free to travel on."

The comments were collected as part of the authority's process to approve a tolling structure that would see rush-hour commuters paying nearly $5 a day to travel back and forth on the seven-mile stretch of express lanes.

The suggested tolls would vary by time of day and type of vehicle, but a car traveling on the toll lanes during peak hours would pay between 25 cents and 35 cents per mile.

The new lanes are part of a $1.1 billion project to completely reconstruct the I-95 corridor north of Baltimore and its interchange with Interstate 695 in Rossville.

The MdTA board is scheduled to take a final vote on the recommended tolling structure on Dec. 12.

How heavily the board will weigh the collected comments is unclear, though members of the board, including Jim Smith, the state's transportation secretary and the board's chairman, said the comments would be "taken seriously."

Among the respondents, 39 percent were from Harford County, 31 percent from Baltimore County, 8 percent from Baltimore; 4 percent each from Carroll, Cecil, and Howard counties; 3 percent each from Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Montgomery counties; and 1 percent from Frederick County.

Residents alternately called the project "elitist," "ridiculous," and a "sick joke."

"I think the whole project is terrible and any politician involved should be ashamed," wrote one respondent.

Others said they hoped the toll lanes ease congestion in the area, but that the proposed cost would prevent them from using the lanes themselves.

Wrote another: "I propose a 1 year moratorium on collecting any tolls for the express lanes. This would be a way of saying thanks to the commuters who have had to suffer with the construction, and give everyone a chance to feel like they are getting something back to make it worth the inconvenience."

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