Maryland DOT selects HOT lanes for I-495 and I-270
February 3, 2021
New HOT lanes may be in Maryland’s future as the state’s Department of Transportation has approved its preferred alternative for a major project in the National Capital Region.
On Jan. 27, MDOT’s State Highway Administration formally chose Alternative 9 for Gov. Larry Hogan’s project to widen Interstate 495 and Interstate 270 near the Capital Beltway. That option adds two high-occupancy toll (HOT) managed lanes in each direction on I-495, converting the one existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane in each direction to a HOT lane on I-270. It also adds one HOT lane in each direction on I-270, resulting in a two-lane, HOT managed lanes network in each direction on both highways.
The option was one of seven, all of which included some combination of HOT, HOV lanes, and express toll lanes, with the exception of the no-build option. MDOT’s Alternative 9 option will now move to the next phase, which is the final environmental impact statement. MDOT expects that to be complete sometime in fall of this year. Existing general purpose lanes will remain toll-free.
According to MDOT, the public-private partnership agreement, which is yet to be determined, will be good for 50 years.
HOT lane toll rates have not been set. However, the public will have a voice in determining those rates in future toll hearings to be held by the Maryland Transportation Authority.
New toll lanes are part of Gov. Hogan’s Traffic Relief Plan. The project was initially estimated to cost about $9 billion, with some projections as high as $11 billion. Hogan’s plan addresses congestion issues near the nation’s capital. At the time, it was the largest proposed public-private partnership highway project in North America. According to a news release, the statewide cost of congestion based on auto delay, truck delay and wasted fuel and emissions was estimated at $2 billion in 2015.
Although MDOT’s plan does not toll all lanes, some have criticized HOT lanes by calling them “Lexus Lanes” – i.e., the idea that only higher-income earners can afford to access the quicker route. However, MDOT refutes those claims.
“The ‘Lexus-Lane’ claim has been dismissed by studies based on actual user data that shows users of all income levels benefit from reduced travel times, including managed lane users and those who continue to use the general purpose or toll-free lanes,” MDOT states. “Managed lane usage is not closely correlated to income. The managed lanes that we are studying would provide more options for people needing a reliable trip time. Nationwide research shows a majority of travelers choose to use price managed lanes occasionally for critical or important trips, such as reaching an appointment or a school event.”
In addition to HOT lanes, the alternative also includes a bicycle and pedestrian connection across the new American Legion Bridge. An expansion to bus capacity at Shady Grave Metro, park-and-ride facility expansions and environmental enhancements are also part of the alternative.
For more information about the 495/270 P3 program, go to 495-270-P3.com. LL