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August 25, 2004

An Open Letter for Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan

Alan Imhoff

Normally one would write this letter first and then publish it in the newspapers. That still may be done, but first I would like to try the idea out on you.

A lot of time and energy is being spent on pursuing some type of relief to the I-270 commute. The most current idea is a form of express toll lanes from Frederick County to the split at the Capitol Beltway. Those in the know know that even with an accelerated project and backing of the administration it could take 10 years or longer.

Not that it is a bad idea, but I have another solution that may be easier to implement.

What is it, you might ask?

My proposal is to introduce two new toll roads in Frederick County that will raise revenue that can be used to offset the improvement costs to I-270 and two of its main feeder roads. Those two feeder roads are US 15 and US 340.

Why you might ask will those roads help?

While I do not have any official studies to confirm this, my observation of over 20 years of commuting up and down I-270 shows a high percentage, probably 30 to 40%, of the traffic from vehicles with Pennsylvania and West Virginia license plates. And if I were to guess, most of those driving are former Maryland residents.

Again why target these two roads?

With more and more workers in the metropolitan D. C. area seeking relief from high housing costs and/or high property taxes, the increase in those workers seeking a home in our neighboring states is an increasing phenomenon that will be with us for decades to come.

The traffic burden on US 15 is already a problem with solutions "in the works," but at least a decade or longer away from resolution. US 340 is beginning to experience similar problems and, when combined with US 15, both pour into the famous "mixing bowl" just south of Frederick City.

In 1899 the State of Maryland had 497 miles of turnpikes/toll roads in six counties, a system that had started almost 95 years earlier in 1805. This is from Report of the State Roads Commission of Maryland 1927-1930 published in 1930.

Once again, we come full circle to the new system of toll roads. We call them HOV lanes, or express lanes, or limited access, and the whole purpose is to provide some form of relief, financially or physically to an ever-congested system of roads in the area.

So, on to my idea, Dear Readers. Write or e-mail Secretary Flanagan if you think the following has merit.

Install a system of tollbooths similar to the system on I-95 at the Susquehanna River Bridge. Place the main tolls on southbound US 15 between the Pennsylvania line and Emmitsburg and eastbound on US 340 just after the bridge across the Potomac.

The toll could be a simple $2. For local county residents it could be 50 cents to enter from Emmitsburg to Thurmont, and 25 cent from Thurmont to Sundays Lane. A similar toll plan could be introduced on 340. There would be no toll lanes on northbound US 15 or westbound US 340.

As technology has progressed considerably, perhaps a form of "Smart Pass" could be used to purchase reduced monthly rates for commuters.

The money collected would be used first to pay off the improvements to both roads for the toll system and elimination of at-grade intersections. After that, the money collected would be to fund the improvements needed to US 15 from Sundays Lane to the Jefferson Street interchange, a.k.a. US 340.

During this same time, the State and the City of Frederick should complete the interchange on US 15 for Monocacy Boulevard, planned for in the late 1950's but still not a reality. The city in turn needs to complete Monocacy Boulevard from US 15 southeast to I-70.

As to US 340, the potential exists that as a limited access toll road it could have an alternative route built from somewhere near Jefferson east to I-270 to avoid the "mixing bowl".

With a push from Frederick County residents, adding this system would greatly enhance the ability to drive through the county by new roads, when compared to the suggested I-270 solution. The ability to distribute the traffic is much greater when this "spider-web" design of road systems is used as opposed to the current hub and spoke design.

The area in which we live will not see the road transportation problems go away as our geographical location has always been a major crossroad between east and west travel as well as north and south. As long as our neighboring counties in three other states continue to grow, in part because of decisions here, we will be faced with this problem.

Toll roads are one way in which we can find money to solve some of these problems that affect drivers from at least nine other counties in four states.

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