2021 | Transportation

Possible toll rates released for I-270, Beltway

Average trip of about 7 miles could cost $4 to $5

Beltway_fixed

The Capital Beltway near the I-270 interchange in Bethesda

File photo

This story was updated at 10:04 p.m. on Feb. 25 to add more background information.

Possible toll rates for proposed high-occupancy toll lanes for I-270 and the Capital Beltway were released on Thursday, detailing that drivers could pay $4 to $5 for an average trip of about seven miles on a weekday.

The high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are part of the state’s expansion plans for I-270 and the Beltway, or I-495, part of which would include a four-lane HOT design for the widening.

The chosen build alternative — known as Alternative 9 — would add two HOT lanes across the American Legion Bridge to I-270 and north on I-270 to I-370.

Buses, motorcycles, and vehicles with three or more people could travel the new HOT lanes for free. Drivers traveling alone would have to pay if they used the managed lanes.

The weekday average toll on a northbound trip is estimated at $5.02 per trip, while a southbound trip would be an average toll of $3.99 per trip. The rates are for two-axle transponder vehicles.

The preliminary toll rates will not be finalized until after a proposal is submitted this spring. The public comment period for the toll-setting process would begin after the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) Board voted to seek public input on the official staff proposal.

The entire toll-setting process is anticipated to be completed by the end of October.

The average total toll paid for certain periods throughout the day would be highest at $11.18 at 6 p.m. northbound and $6.82 at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. southbound.

It would be the lowest at $1.45 at 8 p.m. northbound and $1.02 at 8 p.m. southbound.

The average toll paid per mile each day would be 77 cents northbound and 58 cents southbound.

According to a staff report, the HOT lanes would improve average evening commute times from the American Legion Bridge up I-270 to I-370 by 50% — from 32 minutes currently to 15 minutes in the managed lanes.

It would also save 23 minutes in the general-purpose lanes, the report says.

Traffic would be expected to drop by 4% on surrounding local roads.

In the staff report, officials wrote that the “cost of doing nothing is overwhelming.”

If the state does not proceed with the build alternative, the state “has no funding options for replacing and improving the American Legion Bridge and I-270 to I-370, ” they wrote.

Average toll rates for Virginia’s managed lanes on I-495 and I-95 are $5.40 and $8.45 per trip, respectively.

The report said 85% of the trips on I-495 in Virginia were less than $12, and 82% of customers spend less than $20 a month.

On the Virginia I-195 Express Lanes, 74% of customers spend less than $20 a month.

The Managed Lanes Study focuses on the bridge and I-270 as Phase 1 South of the widening project.

The alternative would also add a bicycle and pedestrian connection across the American Legion Bridge. State officials have said that the toll lanes will help relieve traffic congestion.

On Feb. 18, Maryland transportation officials announced the selection of a developer for the project’s first phase, Accelerate Maryland Partners LLC, which would enter a public-private partnership, or P3, with the state.

The developer will oversee the work on the I-270 and I-70 Relief Plan. It includes Transurban (USA) Operations Inc. and Macquarie Infrastructure Developments LLC which will be the lead project developer, equity and contractor. Dewberry Engineers and Stantec Consulting Services will be the designers.

The developer choice must be finalized by the MDTA Board and the Maryland Board of Public Works.

Accelerate Maryland Partners’ proposal offered a $145 million Development Rights Payment to the state and $54.3 million predevelopment cost cap.

The proposal also includes:
● An estimated $300 million for transit improvements for Phase 1 South in Montgomery County
● $50 million in community grants
● $5 million for Vision Zero
● $25 million to support emerging technologies through an innovation alliance
● A no-interest loan program for local fleet conversions
● Water-quality enhancements
● Partnerships with small, disadvantaged, women- and veteran-owned businesses
● Union and local contractor involvement
● Engagement with local community organizations and education institutions

State and county officials, environmental groups, and county residents have voiced opposition and concerns about the widening project.

In response to the state’s selection of a developer for the first phase, Council President Tom Hucker criticized the decision in a phone interview on Feb. 18.

“All of us want congestion relief, but we prefer to follow the advice of our professional transportation planners who have studied the proposal,” he said. “It would unlikely bring traffic relief to the region and violates environmental laws and our master plans. The public has been asking for a more balanced approach that invests in the public transit that people need.”

Hucker said state transportation officials have disregarded public input and squandered public trust.

Many officials and residents were surprised when the state moved forward with a request for the proposals earlier this year before it had formally responded to the public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Study (DEIS) for the project.

Opponents have said the DEIS and evaluation of the project are insufficient and don’t provide meaningful review.

A letter sent to state officials from 51 local and regional organizations and officials in mid-November called the study “incomplete,” “inadequate,” and “flawed.”

Concerns that have been raised include the possibility of high toll rates, another P3 after the problems with the Purple Line transit project, a lack of details on health and environmental impacts, impacts to surrounding neighborhoods, and exclusion of public transit.

But state officials have said the project is needed to alleviate traffic bottlenecking by adding the toll lanes.

In a press release on Feb. 18, Greg Slater, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said the selected proposal “delivers congestion relief at the American Legion Bridge, strong innovative approaches for minimizing impacts and a real multimodal approach.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.