Construction began last week to reconfigure the White Marsh Boulevard interchange along Interstate 95. This nearly $150 million project is part of the larger I-95 Express Toll Lanes (ETLs) initiative that is bringing new capacity to this heavily traveled highway—but in a manner that will make use of new technologies for managing travel demand.
Since spring 2006, work has been underway on the I-95 Express Toll Lanes. Two new ETLs are being added in each direction. Drivers will be able to choose between traveling in one of four general purpose lanes—as they do today—or paying a toll to utilize the adjacent ETLs.
Here is where managed lanes technology comes into play. Unlike other toll facilities nearby, rates will vary based on demand by time of day—increasing when the lanes are relatively full and decreasing when the lanes have extra capacity. ETLs manage demand in much the same way as familiar peak-period pricing and discount programs routinely offered by utilities, airlines, transit systems, parking garages and mobile phone providers.
The I-95 ETLs will be structured to encourage motorists to travel during off-peak traffic hours, while simultaneously providing alternatives for motorists who do not have the flexibility of switching their travel time. For instance, a parent who needs a reliable travel time to take a child to a doctor's appointment, can choose to pay a fee to travel in the relatively free-flowing lanes. Similarly, a service technician can save valuable time by choosing to pay to travel in less congested lanes.
Once completed, these ETLs will offer a new travel choice for commuters, one that will allow for more predictable travel times for area motorists. The lanes will also provide additional roadway capacity along I-95, allowing everyone to benefit—both drivers who choose to pay for less congestion and those who choose to continue to drive in the non-tolled lanes.
Research from communities where one of America's 12 existing managed lanes programs already exists demonstrates strong public support. For instance, 91 percent of the users of the Interstate 15 managed lanes in San Diego, California and 66 percent of non-users approve of the program, with a significant majority of both users and non-users agreeing that these lanes (open since 1996) reduce overall congestion. Maryland shares many similarities with these communities, most notably chronic traffic congestion on existing roadways and growing travel demand for the foreseeable future.
Another major benefit of the I-95 ETL concept is its ability to provide needed capacity and an alternative to congestion much sooner than traditional approaches would allow. Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund primarily comprises revenue from the gas tax and motor vehicle registration and titling fees. Highway expansion projects tend to be so big and expensive that it would take decades to accumulate enough tax revenue to pay for them. ETLs, on the other hand, allow this expansion project to be built more quickly, while freeing up traditional tax-based funding for other transportation needs.
In 2004, when announcing the ETL initiative, Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich succinctly identified why managed lanes make good sense. He said, "We must develop new approaches and look at new ways of funding the extremely costly projects that can reduce traffic congestion. Express Toll Lanes can provide commuters with a choice when they need it most, like making an important business meeting or picking up a child at day-care."