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County Seeks More Info on Toll Lanes

The Planning Board took testimony April 26 from representatives of the Maryland State Highway Administration on proposed plans to widen the Capital Beltway along its entire route in Maryland.

The briefing was not followed by a vote or any formal action. Transportation planner Alex Hekimian said that the briefing has been arranged in part because the State Highway officials were conducting public meetings elsewhere and wanted the board to have heard the same information. But in introducing the State Highway officials, Hekimian also submitted staff comments on the Beltway plans to the board and asked the board to endorse them for later submission to the state.

County planning staff call for greater specificity on the traffic benefits of the proposed expansion and on the environmental and community impacts of the construction.

The State Highway plans would add one lane to the Beltway in each direction from the American Legion Bridge to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at a cost of $4 billion. Under one proposal, the innermost lane of the Beltway would then be converted to an express toll lane, which drivers could access for a variable fee.

Another proposal would take the two innermost lanes and convert them both to toll lanes, leaving three free lanes along the outside. Previous proposals, and the county master plan for highways, calls for adding a car pool lane. The current proposal has no provision for car pools.

The proposed express toll lanes are distinct from high occupancy toll lanes (HOT lanes) advanced in other states, which allow carpoolers to access the lanes for free while charging a toll to solo drivers. Maryland officials have said that such lanes are not feasible because of problems of enforcement. However, Virginia officials announced last week that they had completed a deal to add two HOT lanes in each direction on the Beltway between the American Legion Bridge and the Springfield mixing bowl. HOT lanes are already in use in other states.

Both the Planning Board and the Montgomery County Council have recommended that state planners further pursue car pool lanes, and recently the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency concurred with those recommendations.

Other Board questions focused on the need to displace of an entire block of homeowners next to Forest Glen metro station in Silver Spring under the proposed expansion.