Gov. Larry Hogan recently announced a $9 billion highway expansion project that includes construction of toll roads in Maryland along I-270, the Capital Beltway, and the Baltimore/Washington Parkway (“$9 billion highway project would widen 3 major Maryland roadways, Hogan says,” Sept. 21). You might be wondering, why is he doing this, and is it a good idea? As a traffic and transportation planner, I thought it was helpful to provide some background details on the issue.
It is important to understand several things, including the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards that have been enacted by the federal government. This requirement is designed to improve the overall average fuel economy for an automobile manufacturing company’s entire fleet of vehicles. But, it continues to change. In 2012 the CAFE Standard was 36 MPG, meaning all of the vehicles had to average 36 MPG. In 2020, the CAFE Standard is estimated at 48 MPG, and by 2025, the CAFE Standard could be over 60 MPG. As average fuel economy increases, gas tax revenue generated from gasoline sales will continue to drop. As gasoline utilization drops, so does the gas tax revenue.
We need an alternative that can supplement the gasoline tax and, ultimately, replace it. Governor Hogan decided that one of the best ways to replace the gas tax revenue typically used to fix and maintain the Maryland road system is to build toll roads. The idea is to charge a toll during peak times, or when it is more likely to be congested. Maryland currently has congestion pricing on the HOT lanes along I-95, on the east side of Baltimore and on the Inter-County Connector. Congestion pricing can apply to HOT lanes, which are typically adjacent to general-purpose lanes, and to dedicated toll roads. That means during periods of peak use, tolls would be used as a way to encourage cars to find alternate routes or times to travel.
But do HOT lanes and congestion pricing really work? Indeed they do. Along I-95 in Fairfax County, Va., there has been an average 25 percent reduced delay in the general-purpose lanes during peak commuting times. Those not involved in congestion pricing are reaping the rewards of those that are in the HOT lanes.
The bottom line: are toll roads worth it and will I benefit as a daily commuter? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding, yes.
Wes Guckert, White Marsh
The writer is president and CEO of The Traffic Group.
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