Beware of dubious claims [Editorial]

The Aegis

We believe all our readers, in print and on the web, would be well-advised to follow the planning process for the proposed Interstate 95 Express Toll Lanes extension from White Marsh Boulevard in Baltimore County to Route 24 in Harford County.

The Maryland Transportation Authority will host two public informational meetings next week regarding the I-95 Express Toll Lanes Northbound Extension Project, and if you can’t attend one in person, be watching the news media for any information that comes out of them. You also should be able to follow the process on the Transportation Authority’s website, mdta.maryland.gov.

The first meeting will be Monday, Feb. 26, 4 to 7 p.m. at the Joppa-Magnolia Fire Hall at 1403 Old Mountain Road South in Joppa.

The second session will be Tuesday, Feb. 27, 4 to 7 p.m. at the American Legion Overlea-Perry Hall Post 130 at 8666 Silver Lake Drive in Perry Hall.

The ETL extension is part of Gov. Larry Hogan's $461 million Traffic Relief Plan announced in December 2017. The plan also includes adding lanes along some of the more congested stretches of the Baltimore Beltway, or Interstate 695, between Parkville and I-70 in Woodlawn, which are also heavily used by Harford commuters.

While we have generally been supportive of any improvements in the state’s transportation network that eases the amount of time and money that tens of thousands of Harford County residents spend daily to commute to and from jobs elsewhere in the Baltimore region, we believe the ETL extension needs to be viewed with much caution.

The project extends the northbound express toll lanes and provides safety and capacity improvements from Route 43 to Route 24 in Harford County, according to a recent MDTA news release.

The ETL extension will be approximately eight miles, but the project will encompass a whole lot more than just adding one northbound express lane in the middle of the highway, which already has four travel lanes in each direction.

According to the MDTA, “The proposed improvements will increase the quality of life for numerous communities with the addition of four new noise walls and will replace or rehabilitate five bridges that are more than 50 years old.”

The express toll lanes extension is expected to be open to traffic in December 2022, and while MDTA might have been optimistic in saying work could begin this summer, think about the disruption and likely congestion and confusion that will be caused with the removal and replacement of overpasses at Bradshaw and Old Joppa Roads.

Do such changes to the landscape and temporary construction inconvenience justify the so-called permanent “improvement?” That may well indeed be a dubious claim, as the majority of congestion problems for Harford commuters using I-95 tend to occur inside the Beltway in the morning because of backups on the approaches to both tunnels – beyond where existing express toll lanes end.

At next week’s public meetings, attendees will have the opportunity to meet the project team; learn about the proposed safety and capacity improvements, including construction of overpass improvements and associated detours at Bradshaw Road and Old Joppa Road; learn about noise wall locations; and share ideas and ask questions, according to MDTA.

Residents also can provide input on the MDTA website, by email at I95ETLNB@mdta.maryland.gov or by U.S. mail at Maryland Transportation Authority, Attn: William N. Pines, 8019 Corporate Drive, Suite F, Nottingham, Md., 21236.

Our advice is to listen carefully, ask many questions and be skeptical of any claims about ultimate traffic mitigation. The ETL extension has all the makings of money not so well spent.

This editorial has been updated with corrections from an earlier version to reflect that just one northbound express toll lane will be built under this project, and no charges are anticipated to existing interchanges at routes 152 and 24 in Harford County.

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