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As Long as We Remember...

April 7, 2004

Out With The New, In With The Old

Alan Imhoff

Recently Robert Flanagan, the State Secretary of Transportation, was in town to address a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce. His briefing gave a little overview of where things stand today and a little about what Frederick County might expect for the future with regards to road projects.

In his review of where we are today, he went over some statistics on growth. The population over the last decade has grown 30 to 35%. However, the traffic in the county has risen 35 to 50% in volume.

For me this begs a question, does that extra 5 to 15% growth in traffic volume mean we are making more trips per household, or is the increase mostly attributable to our neighboring counties? Are we making more trips to Wal-Mart, or are our sister counties sending their residents "down the road," which now would include Frederick as a destination for them.

One of the items Secretary Flanagan talked about was the possible use of "Congestion Managed Toll Lanes," or, in the parlance of yesteryear, "HOV" lanes (High Occupancy Vehicle). The thinking is that with the advances in technology we could charge a fluctuating rate based on the amount of congestion in any given hour.

Since he was primarily talking about I-270, another question needs to be answered, but first a little background.

Several years ago the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Regional Transportation Forum at Frederick Community College. One of the speakers from WASHCOG (that's the pseudo-governmental entity our county may or may not belong to, depending on whose viewpoint you use). Anyway, the speaker presented the fact that metro rail system was at or very near full capacity and was likely to remain so even with the planned expansions of the next 20 years.

The speaker also pointed out, through the use of graphics, how the Capitol Beltway was at 100% of capacity in certain segments for most current rush hours. Then, by walking through a series of years, he demonstrated how the Beltway would be near or above 100% capacity for most of the day.

So, back to Secretary Flanagan, if the state is proposing this Congestion Managed Toll Lane system on I-270, we could charge a fair amount of money by the hour to have drivers backed up waiting to get on the Capital Beltway. Unless, of course, we did the same thing on the Maryland portion of the Beltway.

Perhaps a better alternative that could probably be implemented earlier is making US 15 a toll road for the length of Frederick County.

Think about this a minute or two. By implementing a toll system similar to the Bay Bridge or Susquehanna Bridge for I-95, out of county residents would pay in the morning coming into the county, then get a "free" return trip home. Local residents could opt for a monthly "smart card" rate, similar to the Greenway in Loudoun County or utilize the local county roads to access I-70/I-270. The money thus collected could then be used to upgrade and widen US 15 border to border; offsetting some of the cost we are going to have to bear.

Why a toll road?

Why not?

In 1899 a geological survey listed 497 miles of turnpike in operation in six counties and 130 miles abandoned within the state. Toll roads, a.k.a. turnpikes, began in the state in 1804 and by 1825 about 150 miles of "stone roads" had been placed in service. So what is wrong with using a funding source that evidently worked well 200 years ago?

We could even add US 340 to the list of potential toll roads. This money could be used to connect/extend US340 somewhere around Jefferson over to I-270 below Urbana, thus creating a by-pass south of the City of Frederick.

Another little piece of historical trivia regarding funding for roads in the State of Maryland, the Maryland State Aid for Highways law passed in 1904 provided that money was to be distributed to the counties in proportion to their public road mileage, on the condition that the county provided a sum equal to that allotted by the state.

So, maybe if we could combine toll revenue with a 50/50 sharing mechanism, the county might realize more road improvements faster than what we can expect from Secretary Flanagan's outlook for the future.

Instead of making up new names for the latest "in" thing for state highways, why not retrace our footsteps a little and use some common sense methods from yesteryear and get some more money flowing into road building in

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