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A $9 Billion Highway That Promises to Pay for Itself
Citylab ^ | September 26, 2017 | Andrew Zaleski

Posted on 10/10/2017 5:17:00 AM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks

Last Thursday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan unveiled a $9 billion project to widen three of the state’s most heavily trafficked highways: I-270, I-495—also known as the Capital Beltway—and MD-295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

What the governor’s office dubbed the Traffic Relief Plan involves constructing two express toll lanes each way—or four total toll lanes—to all three highways. Widening the Capital Beltway and the section of I-270 connecting the growing commuter-city of Frederick to Washington, D.C., would cost an estimated $7.6 billion, which the state expects to be financed via public-private partnerships: Private companies would build and maintain the new toll lanes, sending a portion of their revenue to the state every year. Hogan’s office billed that effort as “the largest proposed P3 highway project in North America.”

The revenue from those toll lanes would also fund the expansion of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a comparatively bucolic 32-mile-long two-lane that largely parallels four-lane-wide Interstate 95. Doubling its capacity to four lanes is expected to cost $1.4 billion and comes with the added hurdle of convincing the National Park Service to hand over the woodsy route to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

On paper, this looks like a textbook example of the sort of voter-friendly infrastructure project that the Trump Administration has been promoting: privately funded and auto-centric. But in a state once considered a leader on sprawl-containing “Smart Growth” policies, this is also a kind of pave-a-thon from another era—one that comes with some extremely unrealistic cost estimates.

“When I heard about the governor’s announcement, I thought, ‘There’s a 20th-century solution to a 21st-century problem,’” says Emily Scarr, director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

A P3 Primer

America’s second-most popular governor is a blue-state Republican who has been adept at maintaining a safe distance from President Donald Trump while serving the needs of the state’s millions of suburban voter-drivers. This plan is aimed squarely at that cohort, and they are indeed hurting: Washington, D.C., now tops the list of gridlock-plagued cities in the U.S., with 82 hours of delay per commuter, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson told the Baltimore Sun that rush hour traffic on each of the highways in the Hogan plan “amounts to seven hours every weekday.” Daily, that’s 260,000 cars on I-270, 240,000 on I-495, and another 120,000 on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. “These three massive, unprecedented projects … will be absolutely transformative, and they will help Maryland citizens go about their daily lives in a more efficient and safer manner,” Hogan proclaimed at the unveiling event.

A key feature of Hogan’s proposal is the premise that high-occupancy toll lanes are essentially self-financing: With private developers shouldering the design, construction, and maintenance costs and tolls serving as a reliable source of regular revenue, the project would be subsidized by the legion of well-heeled commuters willing to pay extra to escape gridlock. And the suburbs of D.C., home of America’s four wealthiest counties, have no lack of them. “Not only do P3s dramatically decrease the cost to taxpayers, they also have the potential to generate billions of dollars in much-needed revenue for the state,” Hogan said at the announcement last week. “It won’t cost us tax dollars.”

But toll roads aren’t always cash-making slam-dunks: Virginia, a leader in P3-style highway projects, has tempered its enthusiasm for the model lately. And there’s a similar project nearby that shows this new highway expansion might be making promises it can’t keep. In 2014, 8-mile-long, two-lane express toll lanes opened on I-95 north of Baltimore. Then-Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration pegged the cost of the project at $645 million, an estimate that ballooned to $1.49 billion. Anticipated revenue from tolls has fallen short: The total toll collected on those lanes over one year from 2015 to 2016? Just $11.4 million, according to Ben Ross, chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition.

“They say it’s a P3 and claim the taxpayers don’t have to pay any money, but even if the entire $9 billion is put up by a private partnership, that doesn’t mean residents and taxpayers aren’t paying in another way,” says Matt Casale, transportation advocate with U.S. PIRG.

For Whom, the Tolls?

The highway plan’s main goal, as the name says, is traffic relief. The principle of induced demand is a familiar one to CityLab readers, and gets frequently invoked by foes of highway-widening. But making the new lanes a priced resource can change that equation. “If new lanes are ‘free,’ everyone crowds in, so you pay for using the road in time and gas wasted rather than money,” says Loyola University Maryland economics professor Stephen Walters. “But there’s lots of evidence that the price system—tolls—works very well to reallocate demand over time, coaxing those who value the road least at peak times not to use it then, while making high-valuing users pay for the privilege.”

When Stockholm implemented congestion charges on several highways in 2006, traffic was shown to decrease by 22 percent. Maryland’s Intercounty Connector was constructed in 2011 as a toll highway expressly for the purpose of easing congestion on the Beltway, and, according to AAA, it looks like that has slowly begun to happen.

Still, PIRG’s Casale submits that the danger of induced demand lurks in any sort of highway expansion, even one that makes use of toll lanes. As PIRG has discussed in a series of reports, many highway expansions in the U.S. are tolled expressways, yet exhibit the same problems that non-tolled expressways do: New lanes attract more drivers, which leads to more traffic, which leads to congested roadways—even before the lanes are fully operational.

In North Carolina, tolled express lanes are currently being added to I-77 through a P3 arrangement. But since construction began, the project has already run into many problems. “The private construction firm that the state hired … has created a 26-mile work-zone where drivers had to dodge roadway debris. Congestion has increased and crashes are up 41 percent,” Casale says.

New toll expressways also raise the divisive specter of “Lexus lanes,” something with which Californians are familiar: tolled expressways that are too expensive for many drivers to use. In 2009, the Maryland State Highway Administration completed a study to assess potential costs incurred to widen I-270 from Frederick to Shady Grove using tolled expressways, and concluded it would cost no less than $4 billion. To pay that back over 30 years, the pro-rail Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition estimated that the state would have to charge $38 per car to drive the 28 miles from Frederick to Shady Grove in Montgomery County.

What’s more, expanding I-270 and the Capital Beltway in what are already crowded population centers and residential regions will require displacing people and houses—further driving up costs. That same 2009 study from the SHA said a widening of I-270 “will displace a large number of residences and requires minor property takings.”And development around the Beltway is far more dense; the current ring road threads through some of the most valuable real estate in the country.

“Where the heck do four lanes go around the Beltway?” wonders Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the transit-friendly advocacy group 1000 Friends of Maryland.

A Rebuke to Rail Fans

For Baltimore-area residents like Schmidt-Perkins, a highway mega-project aimed at suburban commuters is also a galling reminder of Hogan’s decision two years ago to cancel the Red Line, a 14.2-mile-long east-west Light Rail line that was supposed to help connect Baltimore’s most overlooked and impoverished neighborhoods to public transit. “A major transportation project that had been planned for decades was stolen from Baltimore,” she says.

The $2.9 billion budgeted for the Red Line was reallocated to highway spending across the state, and $900 million in federal money to be used on construction—one of only six projects nationwide to receive federal financial support—vanished. In place of the Red Line, the Hogan administration offered up BaltimoreLink, a $135 million route overhaul of the bus system in the city that launched this June. Samuel Jordan, president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, calls the comparatively minor bus makeover “a dismissive, punitive consolation prize for what would be a transformative transportation project for the region and for Baltimore.”

Now it’s the governor’s turn to bandy that phrase around. But his brand of transformative project still has a long road to travel before any commuter feels anything approaching relief: As Maryland Reporter columnist Barry Rascovar noted, the project faces years of legal and environmental reviews. “Indeed, Hogan may be out of office by the time the first ground-breaking ceremony takes place—which may be part of his strategy.”

Schmidt-Perkins sounds equally skeptical. “They’re talking about massive infrastructure, massive tolls, at a time when there are so many urgent transportation needs in this state,” she says. “It’s wackadoodle.”

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections; US: Maryland; US: North Carolina; US: Virginia
KEYWORDS: baltimore; commuters; construction; freakstate; funding; infrastructure; larryhogan; maryland; morehighways; northcarolina; p3; ppp; privatization; redline; spending; transit; transportation; virginia
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1 posted on 10/10/2017 5:17:00 AM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
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To: Abundy; Albion Wilde; AlwaysFree; AnnaSASsyFR; bayliving; BFM; Bigg Red; cindy-true-supporter; ...

Maryland “Freak State” PING!

2 posted on 10/10/2017 5:18:05 AM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks (April 2006 Message from Dan
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

Gov’t has have VERY poor track record regarding tolls ever paying off any road construction, or at least going away.

3 posted on 10/10/2017 5:20:59 AM PDT by Paladin2 (No spelchk nor wrong word auto substition on mobile dev. Please be intelligent and deal with it....)
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To: Paladin2

True, but I think the model these days is that the tolls don’t go away, because they pay for ongoing maintenance, not just the initial construction.

4 posted on 10/10/2017 5:29:41 AM PDT by Little Pig
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

Lol.. Are they keeping gas taxes too? People are crazy. Toll roads... How many times will you pay for the same patch of asphalt.

5 posted on 10/10/2017 5:33:56 AM PDT by momincombatboots (White Stetsons up.. let's save our country!)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

Virginia has already done this on I495 and I95 from the Maryland border south.

6 posted on 10/10/2017 5:41:07 AM PDT by tired&retired (Blessings)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

What bothers me is the corruption in the private partnership. Slick Eddie Rendell tried this with I80 when he was Pennsylvania governor.

7 posted on 10/10/2017 5:43:23 AM PDT by tired&retired (Blessings)
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To: tired&retired

Maryland? Well, given their harassment of 2A people, I stay clear of that hell hole besides the fact I rarely go north of the Carolinas these days.

8 posted on 10/10/2017 5:43:29 AM PDT by Mouton (The MSM is a clear and present danger to the republic.)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

How about cutting the size of the federal government by say, 50%?

9 posted on 10/10/2017 5:44:45 AM PDT by Redleg Duke (He is leading us in Making America Great Again!)
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To: Little Pig

Unfortunately, they also use it as a way to fund large expenses.

Just across the Potomac in VA, The Dulles toll road’s toll was raised to support the construction of the Metro’s Silver line. I have no doubt it will *not* go down when they finish that project.

10 posted on 10/10/2017 5:48:12 AM PDT by tfecw (It's for the children)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

We have got to be the most gullible people on the planet.

We pay something like 65 cents per gallon gas taxes these days.

Folks, that is enough to build highways and keep them up.

Why are we setting it up so it will cost us hundreds of dollars to drive cross country, in tolls?

11 posted on 10/10/2017 5:52:13 AM PDT by DoughtyOne (John McBane is the turd in the national punch-bowl.)
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To: momincombatboots

I wouldn’t laugh at tolls - it was the way our founders and early settlers did it. Turnpikes literally and so on. It’s a usage fee. If you don’t use it, you don’t pay. What a novel concept.

12 posted on 10/10/2017 5:54:53 AM PDT by the OlLine Rebel (Common sense is an uncommon virtue./Federal-run medical care is as good as state-run DMVs.)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

In Orlando they are building toll roads down the center of I-4 where Congressman John Mica said for years that would never happen. Then one day, out of the blue, he changed his mind, and presto, the interstate highway is a toll road!

Oh, and the cost to use the toll portion of the road is based on how much traffic there is. If traffic is heavy it will cost more.

Where is all the money from stupid lotteries going? Where are the gas taxes going?

Amazingly, Mica was promptly kicked out of Congress by the voters.

13 posted on 10/10/2017 5:55:09 AM PDT by subterfuge (RIP T.P.)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks
A $9 Billion Highway That Promises to Pay for Itself

Highways never pay for themselves.

Citizens do, and now private enterprises make a profit off it too.

Is there anyone here who thinks that lowers the cost?

14 posted on 10/10/2017 5:57:57 AM PDT by DoughtyOne (John McBane is the turd in the national punch-bowl.)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

Ha. Boy, do I LOATHE ‘going home’. $20+ just to see the other side of the family North of Philly for the 90min. commute up I95?? Uh, no. I’ll take the Sunday-lazy-drive up old Hwy1 and skip the tolls. Better scenery and just about the same amount of time as I don’t have the FassPass (too easy to ‘forgot’ and get a nice bill when you return from the visit.

Jax, FL been putting in HOV and expanding the bypass. As the post suggests, seems to have made traffic WORSE, not better ([never ending] construction, pattern shifts).

MD, no matter the depth of your pockets, govt will demand as much lint as it can get.

15 posted on 10/10/2017 6:04:54 AM PDT by i_robot73 ("A man chooses. A slave obeys." - Andrew Ryan)
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To: Mouton

I inadvertently jumped on a section of Raleigh toll road. I was concerned about where to pay the toll. The mail you a bill

The bill was for $0.41, the postage was $0.43

16 posted on 10/10/2017 6:19:42 AM PDT by bert (K.E.; N.P.; GOPc;WASP .... The Fourth Estate is the Fifth Column)
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To: the OlLine Rebel

I always laugh at tolls. Usage tax is different. Use ten feet of asphalt,pay each time.. usage. Tolls.. well your local state and federal taxes just aren’t cutting it.. so we need you to pay an additional tax and we will call it usage. It sounds better than how many times will idiots say ok to paying for the same ten feet of asphalt tax.
So toll roads on lots of places are in terrible shape, oh then we need a billion dollar stimulus. Some fancy signage saying thank you tax payers for your state, local, federal tax, and your tolls and.. your one Billion dollar union bailout.
If toll roads work, why are they in such bad shape?

17 posted on 10/10/2017 6:27:48 AM PDT by momincombatboots (White Stetsons up.. let's save our country!)
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To: Paladin2

“Gov’t has have VERY poor track record regarding tolls ever paying off any road construction, or at least going away.”

Don’t worry, it will be different this time. If it’s like the PPP’s throughout the rest of North American, the contract REQUIRES that the road be turned over to the state and then operated as a freeway, once the contract term is over (typically about 75 years).

18 posted on 10/10/2017 6:30:00 AM PDT by BobL
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To: DoughtyOne

“Why are we setting it up so it will cost us hundreds of dollars to drive cross country, in tolls?”

Because toll roads don’t cost anything, you always have the option of walking to work.

(well, that’s what [paid] toll road shills claim, at least)

19 posted on 10/10/2017 6:32:14 AM PDT by BobL
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

As the greater NYC area learned from Robert more roads/lanes and they will fill up.

20 posted on 10/10/2017 6:40:28 AM PDT by Founding Father (The Pedophile moHAMmudd [PBUH---Pigblood be upon him]; Charles Martel for President)
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