Area residents get a long, detailed look at I-95 toll lane extension during Joppa presentation

More than 100 people were at the Joppa-Magnolia Fire Hall Monday afternoon and evening to learn more about the Maryland Transportation Authority’s Interstate 95 Express Toll Lane Extension Project and its potential impact on commuting and their communities along the highway.

The turnout for the four-hour session was excellent, said John Sales, an MDTA spokesperson, who was among a number of MDTA representatives in attendance. A similar session was scheduled Tuesday at American Legion Overlea-Perry Hall Post #130 in Perry Hall.

“We were very pleased with the high attendance and community input at the first open house,” Sales said Tuesday in an email, in which he also said 117 people had signed in at the Joppa meeting. “It’s affirmation that there is a high interest in this much-needed project, which will provide local residents with congestion relief, safety improvements and other enhancements to improve the quality of life in this area.”

A number of poster boards depicting various aspects of the project were arranged around the hall, with the MDTA contingent acting as guides or standing by to field questions. Some parts of the project grew out of MTDA’s I-95 Area 100 and Area 200 studies of capacity and safety needs, according to the presentation.

Most of the work on $210 million project will encompass a 7.5-mile stretch between the White Marsh Boulevard (Route 43) and Mountain Road (Route 152) interchanges, with construction expected to begin in early 2019 and be completed in late 2022, according to MDTA. Funding will be provided from tolls collected by MDTA, which operates the state’s bridges, tunnels and other toll facilities, Sales said.

The project consists of extending one express toll lane north from the terminus at White Marsh Boulevard to just across the Little Gunpowder Falls which forms Baltimore and Harford counties border. The express lane will be built on the inside, or to the left, of the existing four travel lanes.

From the latter point, a fifth “auxiliary” northbound travel lane will be added on the outside, or to the the right side, of the existing four lanes to the south exit ramp for Route 152, according to MDTA. Motorists would not pay a toll on any of those lanes.

Another similar auxiliary lane will be constructed from the entrance ramp of the Route 152 interchange to the exit ramp for Route 24 in Abingdon; there would be no toll on those lanes, either.

Sales said current traffic loads determined the need for extending the toll lane northbound only at this time, but southbound extensions could be considered in the future. He said there would be an additional toll for motorists using the extended express lane, but how much “hasn’t been determined.”

The first lane work will occur on the Route 152-Route 24 portion starting in March 2019 with estimated completion in June 2021. The express lane extension and the auxiliary lane between Little Gunpowder Falls and Route 152 will be built between July 2020 and December 2022, according to the MDTA schedule.

There are no plans for changing the existing configurations of the Route 152 and Route 24 interchanges; however, the existing overpasses at Bradshaw Road in Baltimore County and Old Joppa Road in Harford County will be replaced with longer, but not wider, spans to accommodate the additional lanes with this project and possible future lane additions, an SHA representative said.

The two overpasses will be closed to traffic during the replacement construction covering a period of January 2019 to July 2020 for the Bradshaw span and May 2019 to September 2020 for the Old Joppa span. Motorists who use those bridges will have to detour around using either Raphel Road in Baltimore County in the former case, or Franklinville Road to Route 152 in the latter.

The overpass closures did not sit well with a number of people who went through the presentation, some who told MDTA representatives they routinely use them to get back and forth for shopping and church and other activities.

New noise walls are planned at different places between White Marsh and Route 152, including on the northbound side (right) from the Little Gunpowder to just south of the Route 152 interchange. Noise walls also are planned for the southbound and northbound sides of the highway in Baltimore County between Joppa Road and Old Forge Road and on the southbound side between Old Forge and Big Gunpowder Falls.

Work on the Baltimore County noise walls between East Joppa and Old Forge roads would begin in January 2019 with an estimated completion of December 2019; work on the other three noise walls would begin in July 2020 with an estimated completion in December 2020.

MDTA representatives also said there will be some widening to bridges crossing the Big Gunpowder and Little Gunpowder that may result in temporary lane closures, but they stressed such work is typically done during off-peak travel times.

Among those who attended Tuesday’s session were two people running for local elected offices in districts covering all or part of the project area.

“I’m conflicted,” said Donna Blasdell, an Edgewood resident and a Republican running for the Harford County Council’s District A seat covering Edgewood and Joppa. She is a legislative aide to Councilman Mike Perrone, who is not running for re-election.

“They [MDTA] always seem to do everything piecemeal,” Blasdell said. While she would welcome improvements that aid people getting to and from work, she said she hopes the additional lane to Route 24 won’t cause more backups around that interchange, which she said are already a problem.

David Seman, a Jarrettsville resident and a Republican candidate for House of Delegates in District 7, which includes the area where most of the I-95 work is planned, said he came to the session mostly because he uses the highway to commute to his job with the State Highway Administration in downtown Baltimore.

He said his main concern would be how a motorist using the extended express lane will be able to cross what amounts to four lanes of traffic to exit at Route 152, a distance of just over one mile.

“At 65 miles per hour, that’s not a lot of distance to be able to move over,” he said.

The MDTA’s Sales said planners have taken that situation into consideration.

“Once the project is complete, motorists will have more than one mile from the end of the northbound ETL near Little Gunpowder Falls to the exit ramp for MD 152 (it was determined from current and future traffic models that motorists will need less than a mile to make the MD 152 exit),” he said via email.

“Additionally, there will be an exit ramp from the current northbound ETL to the general purpose lanes (mainline I-95) north of MD 43,” Sales said. “This will provide drivers the option of exiting the ETL facility north of MD 43 or at the Little Gunpowder Falls to access the MD 152 exit.”

Find out more about this project www.mdta.maryland.gov/I95ETLNB/Downloads.html.

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