You recently carried a letter to the editor ("State needs to shift focus toward mass transit" by Ali Williams on July 28) saying that mass transit is preferable. But the addition of express lanes in which variable toll rates are used to manage traffic density and avoid congestion will make I-270 a superb transit facility. MARC Rail-to-Frederick is a bust, used by fewer than 400 commuters per day. It’s circuitous and slow. Buses leaving Frederick and running in the future I-270 express lanes (ELs) will be at Shady Grove or Rockville before a MARC train even gets to the main line at Point of Rocks.

A reliable 30-minute bus ride in the 270 ELs to Shady Grove Metro might attract three or four times as many riders. Even so, it will never be significant compared to the 80,000+ users of 270. There's no potential mass in so-called mass transit here in Frederick County. Origins of trips and destinations are too dispersed and population densities are too low.

The letter writer claims "Maryland has forced its residents to rely on cars." Really, how? The sinister state forcing everyone to drive cars against their will? More likely, most people just find their cars more convenient for the vast majority of their trips. The car goes when you're ready, not according to some bureaucrat’s timetable. In the car, you travel nearly door to door, instead of having to get to the bus stop or the train station first. Convenient, customized, versatile.

Environmental? Transit occupancy rates have dropped so much it no longer has an edge. The pandemic is yet another blow. Gov. Larry Hogan's plan to fund additional express lanes with tolls is the only financeable transport improvement game in town. And it will benefit transit as well as the mass of the traffic.

(54) comments

mrnatural1

Author of study slams MDOT for misusing it:

https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/sce/maryland-chapter/Author%20of%20air%20pollution%20study%20refutes%20MDOT%20claim.pdf

This is just one example of how the Maryland State government is clearly biased toward Gov. Hogan's Lexus Lanes for the rich proposal.

The SHA does not even pretend to be open-minded and unbiased.

petersamuel

Mr Natural: You continue the derogatory characterization of toll express lanes as "for the rich" which is baseless since operating express lanes around the country are used by people of all income levels. (1) All kinds of people find themselves with an appointment they need to keep -- circumstances in which the value of a guaranteed congestion free ride and arriving on time is worth more to them than the toll. (2) The promise of congestion-free travel in the express lanes for untolled transit buses will provide better access to work and other destinations will help all income groups. (3) By taking some traffic out of the free lanes those free lanes will flow better, if not completely congestion-free. Second it is the Sierra Club which is biased -- biased against all highway improvements. The cited SC letter is nitpicking and proves nothing. Free-flowing traffic IS clearly an environmental improvement over stop and go, idling and accelerating and braking traffic.

mrnatural1

Do you want to pay 3-4 cents per mile or $1.50+ per mile?

Page 43 of Chapter 2 of the "DEIS" says that, if built, the **average** weekday toll would be about 73 cents ($0.73) per mile. See:

https://495-270-p3.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/DEIS_Ch2_AlternativesDevelopment.pdf

The peak rush hour toll would be much higher than the average -- closer to the $1.50 to $1.80 per mile currently charged on the Virginia Beltway. At $1.50/mile that's $50 one-way from Frederick to 495!

Keep in mind, I-66 west of D.C. can cost $4.70 per mile. The US DOT says the current national maximum is $9 per mile! So $1.50 to $1.80 per mile during rush hour is likely a low estimate for the I-270/I-495 proposal.

Furthermore, that ~$0.73 per mile is is the estimated average toll for the first year. Tolls would rise greatly over time. We do not even know if there would be a cap/maximum toll.

Motorists who drive a 25 mpg vehicle pay about 2 cents ($0.02) per mile in fuel taxes. Yes, the fuel tax should be raised -- it should have been raised decades ago -- but even if both state and federal taxes were doubled that would only be about $0.04 per mile -- vs $1.50 (or much more) per mile.

Maryland has had a motor fuel tax for almost a century (since 1922). It works very well. Drive more? Pay more. Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle? Pay less.

Some toll road proponents express feigned concern that 'hybrids and EVs don't pay their fair share'. That is clearly a red herring. Modern vehicles are all connected to the internet. All sorts of data is shared with the mfr. It would be incredibly simple to have vehicles periodically report miles traveled for tax purposes.

Lexus Lane fans will also claim, "This road cannot be built any other way!" In fact, we've financed roads with the fuel tax for decades! It simply needs to be increased.

HOT lane cheerleaders will say that the traffic in the toll lane(s) will increase speeds in the free lanes (the typical claim is +10% -- so 5.5 mph vs 5.0 mph). They neglect to mention that any decrease in congestion will be very short-lived as further development causes traffic to increase. That increased traffic will go disproportionately into the peasant (free) lanes.

The fuel tax has worked well for 100 years. It allows all motorists contribute to maint. & construction costs and all motorists are free to us all lanes, on all roads, at all times.

From the point of view of wealthy elitists though, that's not a benefit -- it's a problem. They do not want to share the roads with the riff-raff. Unfortunately, the motor fuel tax is a great equalizer -- no matter your station in life; your wealth; or your income, we have all -- ALL Americans -- always shared our public roads. That is tolerable to the wealthy until traffic congestion begins to affect *them*. Then the question becomes, "How can we avoid the unwashed masses on the highways?" Building their own exclusive private roads would be too expensive. No, a better method was needed. Enter the P3!

They allow a (usually foreign) corporation to build their (semi) private lanes on existing *public* ROW, and they give them a license to print money for decades (at least). The tolls will be outrageously expensive for most people -- but for the those in the top (say) 10% income bracket the tolls will be pocket change, or at least affordable -- a 'cost of doing business'. Next best thing to a private highway!

Despite all the spin and gushing prose, that's what this proposal is all about. Allowing the wealthiest people to buy their way out of traffic -- and that is clearly wrong. In fact, at a time when our nation is already very divided, and the income/wealth gap is huge (and growing) proposing such a system -- which would only further divide Americans by class -- is deeply wrong.

Also, when the rich and powerful can buy their way out of traffic, that dramatically lowers the pressure to improve the 'free' roads. Those that have the most pull in Annapolis will no longer be concerned about traffic congestion, because it won't affect them. So if this proposal goes through, expect your commute to get *worse* over time, not better (unless you're wealthy).

What's next -- corporate built and operated wings on public schools? Poor kids need not apply?

There are a few alternatives:

* One would be to re-direct growth. Growth simply cannot continue indefinitely -- to pretend it can is insanity. America is a large country. There are plenty of other places where employers can locate. We are obviously -- as evidenced by the traffic congestion and continued destruction of prime farmland -- beyond any reasonable capacity.

* If any lanes are eventually added, they must be paid for with the fuel tax and be free to all, 24/7. In addition, any road widening should come with a moratorium (or at least very serious restrictions) on any further residential growth. Otherwise it is guaranteed there will be more development, and before long the additional lanes will be packed with vehicles and we will be right back where we started. Needless to say, building restrictions in FredCo would not stop residential construction in points north (PA) and west, but it would reduce the number of cars significantly.

One thing is certain. The rights-of-way for our roads are fixed. In many areas it is prohibitively expensive to widen them -- not to mention cruel to force people to leave their homes, or perhaps stay but have to eat a huge reduction in market value. We can't keep widening roads forever.

MD1756

I agree with most of what you say especially the last paragraph. I would add that part of the gas tax should be to cover environmental impacts not just road infrastructure. Therefore it is completely fair that EVs and PEVs (such as mine) would get a break on either or both a gas tax and toll costs.

mrnatural1

Thanks MD!

It would be fine with me if a portion of the fuel tax went toward addressing environmental impacts. Right now the tax is absurdly low. It hasn't been raised since 1992! It should probably be doubled. There should be some provision for lower income people to write some/all of it off their taxes -- or perhaps a partial tax credit. However it's handled, the point is that we can't expect people earning $9 or $10/hour to pay 100% of a flat tax, but it clearly needs to be raised.

While writing my comment I thought about what the policy regarding EVs and PEVs should be.

The primary reason I raised the issue was to counter what is a common red herring argument by proponents of Lexus Lanes and toll roads in general -- that EV/PEV owners are nothing more than tax cheats who are forcing their fellow citizens to pay their way.

Of course what the Lexus Lane fanboys and girls are are hoping to do is divide and conquer, and divert the public's attention from the real issue which is, "How should our public roads and highways be financed?" There is overwhelming real-world evidence that shows that the fuel tax is MUCH more efficient than tolls -- even automated tolls. While any flat tax like the fuel tax is in fact regressive, it is much *less* regressive than onerous tolls. The most regressive and unfair of all toll roads are Lexus Lanes.

It would not hurt my feelings if EVs & PEVs continue to get some breaks/benefits. This is a bit off-topic, but a couple things to consider are:

* In many cases, EVs do actually create air pollution -- it just comes from the power plant instead of the vehicle. A few years ago I read that vehicles that meet the top-level emissions standards actually pollute less than EVs -- if the electricity for the EV comes from a coal-fired plant.

* It makes sense to encourage electric vehicle use, but eventually, almost all vehicles will be EVs or PEVs. So at some point owners of those vehicles will have to contribute fully to the highway fund. I say that as someone whose next vehicle will almost certainly be electric.

These issues are important, but they are tangential to the primary topic, which is how our roads should be financed -- via heavily regressive Lexus Lane tolls of anywhere from $0.90 to $9.00 per mile, or the motor fuel tax, which even if DOUBLED would be only $0.04/mile for a 25 mpg vehicle, or just $0.02 per mile for a 50 mpg Prius.

The only people who would knowingly push for Lexus Lanes that can cost 100 TIMES (or more) what the fuel tax costs, are those that have the disposable income and do not mind paying to avoid traffic. All people of ordinary means will clearly be better off with our existing fuel tax based system.

petersamuel

mrnatural1: You wrote: "What the Lexus Lane fanboys and girls are are hoping to do is divide and conquer, and divert the public's attention from the real issue which is, "How should our public roads and highways be financed?" I guess I'm an unashamed express toll lanes 'fanboy'. Look, throughout American history some roads and bridges have been financed by tolls and others have been financed by taxes,. Tolls as a financing mechanism for American roads are as old the Republic. Virginia approved toll road charters in 1785 and the US Congress charted the first federal tollroad in 1792: the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike. Here in Frederick County the roads named Pikes (Urbana Pike, Buckeystown Pike, Jefferson Pike, Ballenger Creek Pike, Old National Pike, Gas House Pike etc) were all at one point financed, built and maintained as tollroads ('pike is short for turnpike.) Plus the first Interstates were mostly toll-financed and 10 percent of Interstates to this day have tolls.

Mr Natural I: you love taxes for funding roads. I love tolls. The fact is neither of us is going to get our way. Roads are likely to continue to be funded in a messy way partly by tolls, partly by taxes, the balance determined by the circumstances of the time and the details of the most urgent project. Now in the 2020s new taxes won't get I-270 widened or transit improved. There is no political appetite for the taxes that would be needed. If we wait on new tax revenues no improvements wlll be made. But tolls on the new lanes could get the job done.

mrnatural1

Here is some info from the MD DOT SHA website:

https://495-270-p3.com/updates/faqs/

1) It will surprise no one to learn that the SHA is studiously avoiding providing even a rough estimate of how much the proposed tolls will cost. This is their FAQ answer:

"The MDOT SHA has been studying multiple congestion-relief solutions, including tolled and non-tolled alternatives. If high-occupancy toll lanes or express toll lanes are selected as the preferred alternative, the public will have a voice in setting the toll rates. Separate toll hearings would be held by the Maryland Transportation Authority to present, discuss, and take comments on toll rates in an open, public process."

That is clearly bs. As much as I despise Lexus lanes with crazy-high tolls, the fact is that IF they were to be built, the allowable tools will be determined primarily by a) the cost of construction, b) the expected number of vehicles per day, and c) the desired payback time/ROI. 500,000 people could say we think the toll should be the equivalent of the fuel tax -- about $0.02 per mile -- and that will have zero effect. If these lanes are built, we will have no control over the tolls -- none.

2) [SHA]: "The Washington Post reported in 2018: “…most 495 and 95 express users are not affluent…. About 60 percent of the frequent users said they have household incomes of less than $100,000…” Also, according to a Washington Post report, the average toll rates for Virginia’s managed lanes on I-495 and I-95 are $5.40 and $8.45 per trip, respectively."

The SHA selectively quoted this article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2018/09/20/heres-look-whos-using-northern-virginias-express-lanes/

First of all, almost $28 per day (round-trip) is a lot of money to most of us, and that is based on the 24 hour *average*, not the actual rush hour cost.

Since when is $100,000 per year not affluent? Also, that means 40% -- almost half -- have a household income of over $100,000 per year.

Citing an AVERAGE toll rate is very deceptive, to the point of being almost meaningless. Most people want to use Lexus Lanes during *rush hour*, when they are the most expensive. What is THAT rate?

[WaPo]: "About one-third of those users said they don’t mind the tolls because their employers pick up the bill, according to the survey." Sweet deal, but that clearly does not apply to most people.

The SHA must have 'overlooked' this sentence: "Tolls have topped $30 for the 495 lanes, which are used more for commuting."

Oops, they missed another one: "There is ***no cap*** on the tolls. The highest toll recorded for the 495 lanes last year was $32.30; the highest for the 95 express lanes was $46.25." That's $2.30 PER MILE on I-495!

Finally, there's this from the article: "The newest entrant, the 66 Express Lanes, opened in December, with 10 miles of rush-hour, peak direction toll lanes that have yielded some of the highest tolls in the country — $47 one way. That system is directly operated by the state." That $47 is for just 10 miles -- $4.70 per mile!

Funny how the SHA doesn't mention that either. Makes one wonder what else they are keeping from us. The SHA website is clearly, brazenly biased -- especially for a state government website.

Here's the U.S. DOT toll cost info I've mentioned previously:

https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop12031/fhwahop12027/index.htm

"How are the Current Projects Operating?":

"The operating projects are either one- or two-lane facilities in each direction. Most strive to maintain speeds of at least 45 miles per hour. The variable toll ranges from $0.25 in the off-peak to ***$9.00*** in heavily congested periods." That's NINE ($9) dollars per mile!

3)This is from an FAQ about dragging people out of their homes so Lexus lanes for the rich can be constructed:

"MDOT SHA will offer fair market value of your property, which will include just compensation for the property needed. Relocation assistance is a separate benefit that is provided if the owner is eligible."

So Earl and Edna are forced from their home of 40 years, a home they did not want to sell, and only given market value?! Market value is fine if the sellers are *willing*, but all of these homeowners would be compelled to sell if this scheme goes through.

Imminent domain is justified in some cases, but even then, homeowners should get more than "fair market value" as compensation for being forced to move. As part of this proposal, it's just wrong.

4) [FAQ]: "Will I be compensated for indirect impacts, such as noise or decline in property value for my property?"

Very good question! The SHA's answer:

"MDOT SHA can only provide compensation as part of the property acquisition process. However, we will work with you to address concerns related to any possible effects on your property."

This is the SHA way of saying, "NO! We don't care if your property value is reduced by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's your tough luck. We will not pay you a dime."

"What's that? You say your home equity was your retirement nest egg and now you are underwater? Better go back to work! Transurban needs a new project, so step aside."

TomWheatley

Some 40 years ago, I was looking to buy some land. 2 acres on Brink Road in Gaithersburg was 30K, 2 acres in Frederick County was 20K. A quick look at the map and I rapidly discounted any land off the I-270 corridor as it was clear that area would build up up over time to the east with Sugarloaf keeping the west side less dense. In either case, one would have a lot of local traffic all hours of the day.

The interchange at 15/340/70 was a convoluted mess and to get to east 70 required navigating that or up the Silver Mile. All the area to the East was going to build up with people going into Baltimore or due to the flat land there. Looking west, I saw 340 and Jefferson sitting by its lonesome. After some checking at the County, I noted Jefferson had water restrictions (still does) and could not support the sprawling developments I was expecting to see in Urbana and North along 270.

It took 25 minutes to go cross town from the Brink Road area to NBS/NIST back then with the traffic lights or 30 minutes to go down a fairly empty 270 from a beautiful lot and not a single traffic light until just outside the main gate. Done deal. I vanpooled for the next 30 years and never regretted the drive.

gary4books

Some thought shows a divide here which is best illustrated by a Robert Kennedy quote: Some men see what is, and ask 'Why?' I see what might be, and ask 'Why Not?'

petersamuel

Thanks Gary! Of course such Kennedyesque idealism calls for a wider, modern 270. Why not a highway where people have an option -- free rides in the legacy lanes or guaranteed free flow in the toll-managed lanes? Why not go with the improvement that's financeable and in the works? Why not spare taxpayer-$s with toll financing of the new lanes? Why not buses and van-pools that get people to Metrorail in the time it takes MARC to get to Point of Rocks? Why not free flow travel to Virginia using the format they pioneered and have proved on 495 and 95? Why not a beautiful modern free-flowing highway adequate to the people's needs?

gary4books

Peter, it seems that we have found accord. And from very similar points of view. I turned 79 just a few days ago. But I will end my part in this discussion by quoting my first comment here " We just need to sort out all the problems and solutions and see what fits." Line up all the solutions we can find and see what works the best. a modern highway may well be the best use of our resources. And those who want, may find ways to avoid driving.

MD1756

Does it make sense to widen 270 or look longer term and add another crossing like VA wants us to do. That could divert traffic from 270 and the beltway and be a shorter drive for some. Although personally, I still favor population control ranging from births (start charging people extra taxes instead of giving them tax credits for their children to zoning and setting different population densities and building subsidized housing/low cost housing near mass transit hubs.

petersamuel

MD1756: Agree. From a pure transportation standpoint another Potomac River crossing into Virginia somewhere around Poolesville makes a lot of sense. Logically it would be a westward extension of I-370/MD200 linking up with the northern end of VA28. The actual crossing of the river would be no big deal but there would be huge opposition to right-of-way acquisition for 5 or 6 miles through North Potomac, Kentlands, Darnestown and Seneca. I don't see any officials willing to push such a project. On population control consider that any government that had such a radically interventionist policy would be the kind to beef up central power at the expense of the states. It would tend to grow the federal bureaucracy. So the DC metro area would probably grow faster, not slower.

TomWheatley

VA has been drooling to use the Rt 15 bridge as an outer Beltway for years, yet never expanded their side of 15. However, a very limited and direct road connecting the Red Line to Dulles (also the employment areas of Gaithersburg and Hernon) might work. By limited, I mean NO EXITS or full interchanges like the current Beltway to Dulles is done. Possibly some one way for emergency vehicles, but limited overall. Any exit around, say, Potomac would just cause stress on the local roads. You get on coming off 270, you drive to Route 7/28. Have a nice time doing it and no worries about people coming on in the right lane.

MD1756

petersamuel, the first thing to do as an attempt at population control is to just change the income tax policies. Do not give people a tax break for having children and maybe even tax them more for the increased costs they put on everyone else and the greater stress on the environment.

notconcerned

Good job Peter - you got the FNP'ers all pumped up! read the article, not the comments.

mrnatural1

Don't be fooled. At the end of the day this proposal is nothing more than a way to divide our publicly owned highways into lanes for the "haves" and "have nots". Lexus lanes for the rich.

Ask yourself a question -- after all this time, after all of the articles, why have we not heard a peep about the projected cost per mile? How much will the average per mile toll be during rush hour?

The US DOT website says the highest cost HOT/Lexus lanes in the country are up to $9 PER MILE!

I-66 west of D.C. costs up to $4.50 per mile for a 10 mile stretch. That's $45 one-way!

How much would these proposed Lexus lanes on I-270 and 495 cost to use? Why haven't we at least been given an estimate?

A cynical person would say it's because the cost would be outrageous -- unaffordable to all but the wealthiest motorists -- and once people are aware how much the tolls will be they will revolt and any support for the project will vaporize.

In fact, as a matter of design, the Lexus/HOT lanes MUST be unaffordable to the vast majority of people in order to work. To keep the Lexus lanes for the rich flowing at or above their design speed, the variable toll must be set high enough to prevent the riff-raff (that's most of us) from entering. Otherwise they would come to a screeching halt like the "free" lanes for us peasants.

High cost is designed in -- it's a critical feature of Lexus lanes.

This proposal is wrongheaded. It is un-American. It is evil, because it would further divide our nation and exacerbate the gap between the rich and poor.

Public roads are meant to be used by ALL Americans -- ALL lanes, ALL the time. Your income should not dictate which lane(s) you can use.

Now, if a corporation wants to build a truly private road from scratch, parallel to I-270 -- purchase the land; pay for the environmental impact study; pay for all of the surveying, engineering & design, and the construction -- then that would be different. In that case they should be free to charge what the market will bear.

In this case however, the proposal calls for lanes to be built on an existing public right-of-way. I-270 belongs to us -- all of us, not just the wealthy.

There is an opportunity cost to everything. In this case, if additional lanes (toll or 'free') are built, that is precious right-of-way that cannot be used (not as easily anyway) for some form of public transportation that would connect with Metrorail at Shady Grove.

Not to mention that the proposal would require bulldozing homes, commercial buildings, and parkland -- as well as relocating WSSC aqueducts at an estimated cost of $2B! Oh, and they expect WSSC customers to pay for that through outrageous water bills over a couple decades. That is obviously unjust.

In some cases, a majority of homeowners' yards would be taken, drastically lowering the value of their home, yet they are often only reimbursed for the (minimal) value of the land alone. So they may potentially lose a large sum of money -- tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars -- but not be reimbursed. That is clearly wrong.

For anyone who still thinks this is a good idea, keep in mind the construction delays would be horrendous and last for a couple years. Once the construction is complete, any easing of traffic congestion would be very short-lived. Then we'd end up with a wider parking lot. Widening I-270 is an exercise in futility -- unless some way is found to redirect growth to other areas.

Finally, let's say they go through with the Lexus lanes for the rich. What happens a few years after they are complete and 270 is jam-packed all over again? There will be no right-of-way left in many places. No way to widen any further. Game over. Traffic will be worse than it is now, with no feasible solution. FredCo real estate values will plummet when people realize there simply are not enough hours in the day to commute to the D.C. area and back. The smart approach is to severely restrict and redirect growth now -- because that is the real problem.

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Well stated mrnatural!

mrnatural1

Thanks Gabriel!

Funny, there have been a lot of additional posts but still no mention of the cost per mile.

I wonder why that is? Could it be that those who are so adamantly in favor of Lexus Lanes are aware that if the actual cost got out, people would be enraged, and their pet project would never see the light of day?

Surely the corporations that specialize in "Lexus Lanes for the Rich" -- those who have completed so many similar projects across the country -- have *some* idea of what the cost will be.

If they truly do not know, then that implies gross incompetence -- and we know that's not the case, right?

So why aren't we being told the cost per mile? Just a rough estimate with a rock-solid, guaranteed, absolute maximum rate will do. For example:

$0.30 to $3.00 per mile, with a guaranteed cap of $6 per mile.

As it is, we are all being asked to agree to support this project without knowing the cost.

petersamuel

mrnatural: you say you wonder why there has been no discussion of toll cost per mile. Answer: Because toll rates cannot be set firmly ahead of time and also do their job of managing the traffic. The whole rationale of toll express lanes (TELs) is to vary toll rates minute by minute according to the density of traffic in the lanes. The operator is selling a reliable, free-flow trip so will raise toll rates whenever density threatens to tighten traffic to the point where drivers hit their brakes simply because they are getting too close to the vehicle ahead and backups occur. Toll rates have to be high enough to deter that much traffic. And when the lanes have low traffic density or plenty of space to accommodate more vehicles they will drop toll rates to attract those extra vehicles. So it would undermine the whole traffic management system to have some arbitrary toll prices set ahead of time.

That said MDOT I think has published some modeling estimates of the likely range of rates. I recall it iin some of the documents they've published. I wouldn't place too much faith in those since they are just modeling forecasts of what the market will produce.

petersamuel

mrnatural1: Montgomery Co has been severely restricting and redirecting growth of housing for decades (half the Co is reservation) and one result has been pressure for housing here in Frederick Co. If we in Fred Co more severely restrict growth -- we already restrict growth in family housing with 'adequate public facilities' requirements and zoning -- we push growth into Wash Co, WV and PA. The magnet is jobs in Montgo Co, DC, NoVa so more severe restrictions here would likely do nothing to relieve 270 but accentuate congestion on US15 and 70 north and west of Frederick. Restrictions on growth make housing less affordable and commutes longer. Is that fair and desirable?

You posit 270 getting jampacked quickly after the express lanes are added. That's not going to happen because the proposal is to add four lanes which is a substantial addition in capacity (4 lanes to 8 lanes doubles traffic capacity in much of Fred Co), while the underlying growth in traffic volume is quite small (close to population growth rate). We are past the era in which people drove more miles per person each year. The use of variable toll rates in the express lanes will prevent them from getting clogged, while there will be occasional but less severe congestion in the free lanes -- based on the experience of such a toll lane/free lane format in 40 or so working examples around the country.

On fairness, the fact is that toll express lanes (TEL) vehicle mix is very similar to free lanes vehicles (just as many Toyotas and Fords, old cars, pickups etc) so the Lexus Lanes moniker is simply false. Wealthy people don't need to make long commuters. They can afford to live conveniently close to where they work, and they have more discretion about the times they drive. Lower income people often face bigger penalties for being late so they often value the guaranteed congestion-free ride of the express lanes even with the toll. If as proposed buses and vans get to go free in the TELs then again they benefit a good cross section income-wise. My definition of fairness is: those who benefit are the ones who should pay. What's fair about the gas tax being the same per gallon for the guy who drives his 1995 F150 on a near empty country road paying for a free lane on 270 for a Prius or a Tesla?

On construction delays and taking people's yards yes that's a big issue on parts of this project, I agree, especially on the Beltway especially east of the spur. I think there's a good chance that part of the project will be scaled back if not dropped. By contrast 495-west to Am. Legion Br and 270 are more akin to the Beltway widening with TEL additions in NoVA a decade back. The contractors managed that pretty well with carefully managed lane rearrangements and night work. Real estate-wise 270 in Fred Co is relatively straightforward to widen.

We still don't have the details of the alternatives being proposed north of 370 to Fred so we're speculating on everything in Fred Co.

MD1756

Have you seen some of the developments going up that are "easy commute" to 270? Are townhouses from the upper $300s to mid $500s in Urbanna for lower income? Those are for people still choosing to move out of MoCo or if new to the area, buying in Urbanna rather than at Shady Grove where it may cost more like $650k to over $800k. Now look at the single family homes being built near 270. Same story. New homes in Urbanna and further out (from MoCo and DC) cost significantly less ($200+k less) so people will buy further out especially if there is promise of traffic relief on 270 in a few years. In any event, the prices near 270 are far out of reach for low income families. It seems like calling them Lexus lanes may not be far off the mark (even though wealthy people may also drive Fords, Toyotas, Hyundais, etc.).

TomWheatley

I worked in robotics from 1978 to 2000 when I switched over to networks. We were running a vehicle on a side road of NIST in 1992 and later down an unopened Great Seneca highway around 1993 or so. Once the technology for vision computing improved, we could put instrument everything on the vehicle instead of a chase van. We developed a scout vehicle that could drive itself and stay undetected, thus saving sending soldiers to do that dangerous job.

Some of the early papers focused on augmented robotics akin to what was deemed best for robotics in general: basic things left to the machine and higher level thinking to the human. As such, not a fan of fully autonomous vehicles as I have seen first hand the myriad of problems, both technical and legal, with that approach.

However, simple things like staying in your lane, following distance, etc are easily achievable. One paper showed how one could make a convey of vehicles at high speeds where each car determined its proper following distance based on mass, speed, and decent brakes. The key issue is that people are idiots and will always cut in front of the truck or 15 passenger van to 'get ahead'. They will probably do the same thing with a fancy highway.

George Carlin did a short skit on this and it warrants re-investigation. Arm each car with a mechanism to shoot stupid stickers at a car. If the car has too many stickers, the police can cite the driver, in his words, from being a A-hole.

DickD

There's a substitute, it is called van pooling.

TomWheatley

Yes, and we both did that. It works well, but you need the right combination of people who work close by or going to the Metro at the same time. I am still amazed how short sighted planners were to end the Red Line where it is instead of going to Gaithersburg or the developing Germantown.

shiftless88

I was turned off by the snarky comment about evil Maryland. The simple fact is that growth around this area is not focused on mass transit. As Peter himself says; too many varied points of origin and destinations. In places like Europe and Asia, you find housing and big work spaces clustered around mass transit hubs. Personally I think keeping 270 the way it is is the best way to "force" people to make the right choices. Though perhaps two lanes tracks down the middle for trains would be good.

mrnatural1

[thumbup][thumbup] shiftless

Fleawest

There is another benefit to expanding I-270 with HOT lanes that people may not be aware of. I'm a transportation engineering professional and the general public isn't aware of just how close we really are to completely revolutionizing our use of personal transportation through connected and automated vehicles (CAV).

The first generation of CAV technology will probably broadly launch around the same time as construction is wrapping up on the I-270 project. The HOT lanes will provide the infrastructure to separate CAV from the "human controlled" vehicles and provide a safe environment to advance the system. Sensors and electronics to support CAV can be installed in the HOT lanes as opposed to across the entire width of I-270 which will dramatically decrease the implementation cost.

Looking 20-30 years down the road (pardon the pun), personal transportation will be completely autonomous and the need for these huge multi-lane interstates will disappear and we can actually demolish them or use them for other purposes. But this intermediate stage is necessary. These aren't far fetched ideas or unrealistic technology. This is happening right now and we in the engineering field are laying the groundwork now for these developments.

public-redux

Interesting, Thanks for sharing.

MD1756

How well do those vehicles work in inclement weather such as snow or heavy rain? How well do they work at assessing the risk of deer off to the side of a highway? While I want to see progress made with automated vehicles I don't think they will progress far enough as quickly as you claim and even if they do, how many people will sell there existing cars to buy a new one just to use those lanes? Some people worry about the health impacts from cell phones. What health impact will be involved with lots of self driving cars? How will security of any connections and stability of the network be guaranteed? Va Tech and VDOT have worked on smart roads for some time yet it only has a 2.3 mile road finished in 2000 that it uses for testing. Seems like we are a long way from widespread implementation and car makers won't make those vehicles until sufficient infrastructure exists.

It seems like a more immediate and practical solution is to control growth.

shiftless88

MD; while controlling growth is great in principle, in practice people keep having children so growth is inevitable.

MD1756

I understand, but it is cheaper and could happen more quickly. Just provide disincentives to have children raise taxes on everyone even higher as a disincentive for people to move here and get some to move out then widening wouldn't be needed. It becomes someone else's problem.

mrnatural1

Absolutely MD -- the Baltimore/D.C. area is severely overcrowded.

gary4books

Smart roads were once popular, but now our computers in cars can store all the information they need. V2V links with closer vehicles can enable your car to follow the car in front and give you virtually automatic driving in a commute. Many think the best benefits of these cars will be to avoid accidents. Fully automated driving is still a dream, but is is as close as it has ever been. This is not the time to give it up.

MD1756

I certainly don't say give it up, but I don't think it will be available to help 270.

petersamuel

Fleawest: You raise an important issue. The technology of 'autonomous vehicles' (AV or self-driving vehicles) will play into how much roadway we need. You say it's happening right now. True. It has been true since the 1980s that we were on the cusp of it. Example: back in the 1990s a Stanford engineering group successfully demonstrated 'platooning' of tractor-trailers with several of the trucks driverless closely coupled by electronics to the lead one on a Bay area freeway. It worked flawlessly and seemed to make sense -- one driver versus three, less wind resistance, better fuel economy etc. But no one found a practical use for it. Maybe they will in the future, but's AV is very difficult to apply. The biggest dilemma for AV -- do it easily in its own lane in which case you have to lay a whole lot MORE asphalt everywhere first, or do it with great difficulty in mixed traffic? There just isn't the political support or the money for duplicating the road network so AV will only be implemented in mixed traffic. Which is very very difficult, which means it will be quite slow. There will be many dead ends -- like the platooned 18 wheelers. Also I doubt if it will ever be complete at least not in a free society. Many of us will like to keep the option of driving a car, and won't want to go fully autonomous. So unless we have an authoritarian government forcing AV on everyone I don't see us going fully AV. And in mixed traffic lane throughput isn't increased much. Lane capacity stays pretty constant with an AV/driven vehicle mix.

yogib

Mr. Samuels is very strange. he is against the City of Frederick having a downtown conference center and yet wants the taxpayers to spend billions so he continue to drive his car. Having a modern mass transit system along the 270 corridor makes much better sense in the long run.

petersamuel

Yoglb: I'm fine with a downtown hotel and conference center that doesn't involve City taxpayers being put on the hook for $30 million -- one that the hotel developer fully funds. Likewise I like Gov Hogan's plan to add express lanes to I-270 because they will be financed not with taxes but with tolls, which are charges on those motorists who benefit from using the lanes. And I like the project because the express lanes will provide for transit buses -- the only kind of transit that makes sense here.

gary4books

During the war they would post the question "Is this trip necessary?" And often it was not. Travel every day for the sake of living in a car is not so wise.

Burgessdr

Mr Yogib is very ignorant. Peter rarely drives a car. He is long retired and so does not commute.he doesnt need 270 to drive to the grocery store.

petersamuel

Thanks Burgessdr. My personal reasons for wanting express toll lanes (ETLs) are: (1) to see sons and families in DC and Arlington Co more easily and more frequently (2) I can benefit from visits to a electrophysiology/arrhythmia specialist located in Montgo Co (Fred Co has plenty of general cardiologists.) But I write in favor of ETLs mainly because I followed their evolution as a specialist reporter from 1990 to 2013 and like them for 270/495-to-VA. They are the only financeable, comprehensive, practical and fair way to improve our transport connections to the major part of the DC/NoVa metro area. Fair because those who stand to benefit most (future users of the facility) will pay for it over the years in tolls. Practical because ETLs are now a proven mode in 270-type situations. ETLs admit: we can't afford to defeat all congestion with tax-funded highway expansion but we can offer the option of a guaranteed free-flow ride for a fee, and minute-by-minute variations in that fee are a method by which we can fulfill those guarantees for those willing to pay. Comprehensive because the wider highway will accommodate everything from 18-wheelers through dump trucks, RVs, USPS, FedEx vans, buses, van-pools, all sizes of automobiles and pickups, and trips whether they are for work, education, pleasure, business, retail, whatever. Far from being at the expense of transit as critics have claimed, the ETLs provide a great track for express transit buses and vans to get to and from the DC Metro, Tysons etc. Financeability (raising the capital from investors) looks hopeful but still has to be proven with four interested groups whose proposals remain to be detailed after the state chooses between alternative layouts in the environmental review.

TomWheatley

One interesting side note will be the sea change in how we view jobs and commuting in the post-COVID landscape (assuming there is one at some point). NYC is already seeing an exodus of workers who are quite happy working from home instead of long train/bus commutes eating into their time and budget. Does anyone remember the remote workplaces set up during the various gas crises? Does everyone really need to schlep down into DC every single day?

joelp77440

I take the Marc Train or at the worst the metro at Shady Grove. I have a co-worker who drives from Frederick every day to DC. She won't take mass transit for she likes her alone time in the car. Sometimes you cannot change people.

jwhamann

People want their drivable cocoons...

gary4books

I do enjoy reading Mr. Samuel's opions, even when we disagree. He has facts to support his positions. However, I have to say "no good options" is closer than "no substitute," There is no place like home. People can work closer to their homes or live closer to their work. That fixes the problem. The resulting problem is affordable housing closer to DC or even reasons for companies to move to Frederick. And solutions are available. There are other options for working at a distance that we are perfecting now with online access and even satellite offices. We just need to sort out all the problems and solutions and see what fits.

DickD

Cost of homes is just one reason for where you live. Another is the school, another is your company moves, another is you get a better job, another is you want to be close to relatives.

MD1756

For many of us, schools is not a factor at all. However characteristic of the neighborhood is. Until I go into a nursing home (kicking and screaming) I couldn't imagine myself owning a townhouse or even a SFH where there is only 7 1/2 feet to the property line.

petersamuel

Gary: likewise enjoy your comments which are pertinent...so if living closer to the job is the solution why don't people live close to their jobs? Perhaps because their jobs change location and the costs of keeping close to the job involves too many moves. Perhaps because it's a multi-worker household and while a close-to-work home would work for one it wouldn't work for others. Perhaps because other factors than the commute make distant location more valuable -- location of friends, family, recreation they are attached to, relative housing cost, relative cost of living etc. keeps many distant from their job. So I can see many obstacles to job-close housing.

gary4books

And that is why I said "no good options" but sooner or later people will tire of the drive and either move or get a job closer to home. I appreciate your comment.

petersamuel

True gary4brooks as far as you go. But if housing costs remain twice as high close to the jobs any older guys and gals who tire of the commute will be replaced by new young longdistance commuters who have taken on mortgages etc.Fred Co has 240k people of whom about 120k are workers. We're heavily a bedroom community to the greater DC metro area. Rounding up Census Bureau 2017 ACS data, we have less than 90k jobs here, 30k fewer jobs than workers. Those 90k jobs are filled about half by locals, half by in-commuters (from Wash Co, near-PA, WV etc). With local jobs being filled by about 45k local residents and with 120k local workers bedroomed here 75k of our workers commute daily out of the county, most south to Montgomery Co and DC but also large numbers to others jobs scattered through the greater DC/Balt/NoVa metro area. Those are the fundamentals of commuting.

lilysue22

I agree that destinations are too dispersed and we do need more lanes in the county on 270. But our entire country has moved us all towards cars that’s true. It’s been happening over decades, buying cars makes a lot of money. There’s also all the gas you buy and the businesses along the highway and car maintenance and so on. We just didn’t plan for mass transit like other densely populated countries did and I assume it will come back to bite us as climate change gets worse.

petersamuel

lilysue: We have planned for transit and spent a lot of public money on it -- the MARC to Frederick branch line was $100m+ and it has 350 riders/day vs forecasts of 2,000. We also have an extensive bus system with huge surplus capacity -- 25 seater TransIT buses rolling around with 2,3, 4 riders. City and County plans have for ever stressed the virtue of higher densities and transit oriented development. But the development you get depends in the end less on what planners plan than on what people value and what they can afford and pay for. Most people won't live in highrises just because they might provide some mass for mass transit. Same with jobs. It is easy to plan and zone for concentration and density of theoretical jobs but real jobs are where employers, public and private, find it makes most economic sense to locate them. And they are highly dispersed. The tails of transit can't wag the dogs of homes or of jobs.

MD1756

A higher gasoline tax may help with some of that while providing a way to pay for transportation infrastructure and environmental impacts.

petersamuel

A lot of the gas tax nowadays goes to covering the running expenses of transit because the fare revenues only cover a small proportion. A bigger problem is that there is almost zero political support for raising it. And then if it was raised it would have to be spread thinly around the state and no one would notice the benefits. As cars electrify it's likely we'll move to tolls as the main source of revenue for the roads. But it may not happen in my lifetime which I'm presently guessing is about ten years (I just turned 80!)

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