Although workers building express toll lanes have become a common sight on I-95 in eastern Baltimore County, Harford County residents should not expect to see the same thing on their side of the Little Gunpowder Falls for many years, state highways officials say.
A $2 billion Maryland Transportation Authority project to expand and add toll lanes to Section 200 of I-95 – between just north of the Route 43 interchange in White Marsh and the interchange with Route 22 near Aberdeen – has been put on hold until the MdTA can obtain the appropriate funding, John Sales, public affairs manager, said Thursday.
"As far as we're concerned we're not intending to build those toll lanes on Section 200 any time soon until we get that funding in place," Sales explained.
The MdTA is primarily funded by toll revenue collected from the bridges, tunnels and toll roads the agency owns and operates around the state.
Officials have obtained permits in the past year from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Army Corps of Engineers to perform "system preservation" projects on the existing section of highway, according to both the Corps and MdTA.
System preservation projects include general maintenance and repair efforts such as repairs to bridges and overpasses, road resurfacing, cleaning and painting infrastructure and more, Sales explained.
"We could go ahead and move forward with those projects, and we would have funding in place for those projects because we would have those permits," Sales said.
The more ambitious plan to build express toll lanes over the 50-year-old interstate highway's most congested section in Harford is dead in the water.
Officials with the MdTA held a number of meetings with local, state and federal officials – and local residents – between 2005 and 2008 as they worked to determine the "preferred alternative" for improving I-95 in Harford County, according to the project's website.
A 2011 study conducted under the auspices of the National Environmental Protection Act indicated building express toll lanes would be the preferred alternative for Section 200, Sales said.
Section 200 opened in 1963-64 and has expanded from four lanes in both directions to eight lanes heading north and south, according to the project's website.
Phased construction of express toll lanes on Section 100 of I-95 – between the I-95/895 split north of the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore and just north of the Route 43 interchange in White Marsh – began in 2006 and is expected to end in 2014, Sales said.
"It's basically going to have about eight miles of express toll lanes," he said of Section 100.
The section will still have "general-purpose, non-tolled lanes" which motorists can use without paying tolls. Sales said the toll lanes "would certainly give you a more reliable travel time."
The same format was planned in Section 200, with two toll lanes in each direction, in addition to non-toll lanes. Sales said a new park-and-ride lot would be built near Route 24 in the Bel Air area, augmenting the existing Route 24 lot.
A new lot would also be built at Route 152 in Joppa to replace the existing park and ride, which would be affected by the highway widening.
Construction of those lots would not proceed until the highway work is funded and approved in the state's transportation budget.
Although the funding is not in place, the MdTA is working with the Corps of Engineers to obtain a permit under Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act with the belief the toll lanes and other upgrades in Harford will eventually happen.