Express toll lanes on I-95 open for free trials without problems

The I-95 express lanes are open north of Baltimore.

The opening of new express toll lanes on Interstate 95 north of Baltimore — free to try this first week — went off without any major problems this weekend, attracting more than 30,000 users on Saturday, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

"It went pretty well," said Bruce Gartner, the MdTA's executive director, after riding the lanes on Monday morning. "It seemed to be a good spread of traffic at 8 a.m. between the general purpose lanes and the express lanes."

The tolled lanes opened about 1:45 a.m. Saturday after their recent completion as part of a broader $1.1 billion redesign project for the corridor. There are two lanes in each direction down the center of a congested 8-mile stretch of I-95 between Baltimore and White Marsh.

The lanes, which operate electronically and without toll booth facilities, will eventually cost roundtrip commuters about $3.50 per day to use starting Dec. 13, when the free trial week ends. Drivers without E-ZPass devices will be mailed bills at a higher rate.

Gartner said about 15,000 drivers used the lanes on Saturday in each direction. He did not know what percentage of those drivers had E-ZPass devices, but said the tolling equipment worked as intended.

There was one hiccup when a electronic rate sign failed to turn on Saturday, but it has been fixed, Gartner said.

"That's why we have the week break-in, to make sure we get everything squared away for Saturday," he said.

An average of 177,000 drivers use the corridor each day, though the toll lanes were built for the 200,000 drivers projected to use it in 2025, Gartner said. That will likely mean the toll lanes will operate well below capacity for some time, he said.

"We don't build a road for it to be full in the first couple weeks," he said. "That would be a mistake I would not want to make."

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