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Few come out for Harford County hearing on planned I-95 toll lanes

CommutingPublic TransportationAberdeen Proving Ground

The last of three Maryland Transportation Authority hearings on a proposal for express toll lanes on I-95 drew few people to Patterson Mill High School in Abingdon on Tuesday.

MDTA's plan would provide express toll lanes, accessible by E-ZPass, along seven miles of I-95, from the I-895 interchange in Baltimore to the Joppa area just north of White Marsh.

That portion of the interstate would ultimately feature four general-purpose lanes and two express toll lanes for drivers going in each direction.

"We have not gotten nearly as many comments as we thought we would," Bruce Gartner, MDTA's acting executive secretary, said before the meeting.

Gartner said he believes people's experience with similar toll lanes in other places, including the new InterCounty Connector in the Washington, D.C., area and express lanes in Virginia, has helped them see the value of the concept.

"There's been some knowledge build-up over time," he said.

The project is about "providing a reliable trip for everybody," he said, explaining he shuttles around three children and likes knowing how long a specific trip will take him.

About eight people had come in to look at a presentation of the project Tuesday.

Bel Air resident Patrick Wilson, the only person signed up to talk during the public hearing, said he was concerned the toll lanes created special roads for those who could afford them.

Wilson said he represented many people who could not be there Tuesday, such as those who work at Aberdeen Proving Ground or commute long distances.

He said he resents that taxpayers paid for roads that only wealthier people can use.

"I don't think it's right for some people to sit in traffic while others have the resources to just jump the line and drive by," he said. "Sometimes the laws are onerous."

The project is funded entirely by toll revenues, not taxes, according to MDTA literature.

State Del. Susan McComas, who represents the Bel Air area, was also reviewing the exhibit and said she was concerned about the cumulative effect of toll hikes.

"Holy cow, it's just one more fee," McComas, a Republican, said. "It's just, when is it going to end? And then you pile on all the other stuff."

The proposed toll rates, which would launch in fall 2014, would start at a range of 25 cents to 35 cents per mile for two-axle vehicles during peak hours.

The proposed off-peak rate range starts at 20 cents to 30 cents per mile for two-axle vehicles, and the overnight range starts at 10 cents to 30 cents for two-axle vehicles.

Peak times include the morning and evening rush hours on weekdays, the period of noon to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and the period of 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Drivers will be able to pay with E-ZPass or with video tolling, which captures a photo of the driver's license plates and mails a bill.

MDTA has been working on a $1.08 billion improvement project on I-95, including $756 million in improvements between the I-895 interchange and the area just north of White Marsh.

All improvements, including the toll lanes, are set to be completed by December 2014.

For more information, go to http://www.I95ExpressTollLanes.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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