A plan to extend express toll lanes on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore into Harford County will be greatly expanded from what was originally proposed, it was announced Friday morning by the Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the highway.
The $1.1 billion project will add two northbound toll lanes in the center of the highway from just beyond the White Marsh Boulevard/Route 43 interchange where existing express lanes end to just north of the Route 24 interchange in Abingdon, a distance of about 10 miles, according to MDTA.
The MDTA originally planned to build a single express lane from White Marsh Boulevard approximately 7 miles north to just across the Little Gunpowder Falls in Harford County, part of Gov. Larry Hogan’s goal to help relieve congestion on the interstate highway north of Baltimore. I-95 is a major commuter artery for tens of thousands of Harford County residents who work in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and points south.
Harford County and other Baltimore region commuters spend an average of just over 30 minutes going each way to work, the eighth-longest among major metropolitan areas in the country, according to 2017 U.S. Census data, reported on earlier this week by The Baltimore Sun.
As the overall population and the number of jobs have increased in the last 20 years, the region’s average commute time has grown five minutes longer, according to a report by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and Greater Baltimore Committee, also cited by The Sun.
Drivers in the region spend about 47 hours stuck in traffic each year, according to the 2018 State of the Region Report, which was released last week.
Metro areas ranking ahead of Baltimore in average one-way commuting times in minutes, according to Census Bureau, include New York (35.9); Washington, D.C. (34.4), San Francisco (32.1); Riverside/San Bernardino, Calif. (31.8); Chicago (31.3); Atlanta (31); and Boston (30.6).
The expanded express toll lanes project announced Friday is a “big change” from what was planned earlier, MDTA spokesperson John Sales said. More details are available on MDTA’s Express Toll Lanes website.
“These are obviously two very different projects,” Sales said. The latest project “is much more comprehensive than the shorter term improvements” first announced late last fall, he said.
MDTA said Hogan’s administration will commit an additional $890 million to the project, originally budgeted at $210 million, bringing the total to $1.1 billion.
“These important traffic relief initiatives will benefit Marylanders throughout the Baltimore region by giving drivers a safer and more efficient commute,” Hogan said in a statement. “Our administration remains committed to transforming our state’s transportation infrastructure, and extending the express lanes is another example of our ongoing progress.”
The project is expected to get underway in early 2019 with an estimated completion sometime in 2026, according to Sales.
“We reviewed the budgets and decided to move the project up and expand it,” he said, while emphasizing that other planned state highway and bridge projects projects won’t be affected.
The state will recoup the cost of building the new toll lanes and related construction through toll collections, Sales said.
The scope of what is now being planned is significantly greater than the original plan, for which public meetings were held in Joppa and Perry Hall in late February.
In addition to building the two express lanes farther out into Harford County, the interchanges at Route 152 in Joppa and Route 24 will be reconstructed, so motorists can exit to them directly from the express lanes.
The interchange work at Route 152 also will involve changes to the existing park and ride logs, according to MDTA.
Reconstruction of the Route 24 interchange includes a two-lane flyover ramp toward Bel Air, alleviating congestion for motorists exiting I-95 to routes 24 and 924, MDTA said.
The existing overpasses at Old Joppa and Clayton roads in Harford County will be rebuilt to accommodate the additional lanes, and the bridge over Winters Run between routes 152 and 24 will be widened, Sales said.
Some aspects of the earlier plan will not change, such as the rebuilding of the Raphael and Bradshaw overpasses in Baltimore County and the erection of noise barriers along portions of the highway in Baltimore County and in Harford County between the Little Gunpowder bridge and Route 152, Sales said. The bridges across the Big and Little Gunpowder Falls also will be widened.
“The I-95 ETLs [express toll lanes] north of Baltimore have been very successful, and I’m pleased we are able to deliver even more traffic relief,” said Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary and MDTA Chairman Pete K. Rahn in a statement.
Several aspects of the plan announced Friday have been in the planning stages since the early 2000s and have been the subject of past public meetings.
Interstate 95 has four travel lanes in both directions from Route 24 south to White Marsh Boulevard, where existing express toll lanes begin and end, two in each direction to the junction of Interstate 95 and Interstate 695 in Baltimore.
MTA representatives said earlier this year their traffic studies had indicated there is a greater need for the extension of the northbound express lanes to relieve existing congestion.
“Adding two express toll lanes in the northbound direction will provide better service for our customers, reduce congestion and crashes, improve safety and allow for better incident management and maintenance activities,” MDTA Executive Director Kevin C. Reigrut reiterated Friday.
Sales said no additional public meetings have been scheduled to present the expanded plan, but could be held at some later date before the project gets underway.
Colin Campbell of The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.