- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — State officials again have proposed establishing so-called Lexus lanes that would allow motorists to buy their way out of a traffic jam.

High occupancy toll lanes (HOT) would be free to buses and cars with three or more occupants. Single-occupant vehicles would be charged about 20 cents a mile, depending on traffic. The toll would rise as the traffic on the HOT lanes increases.

Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, rejected a HOT lanes proposal in 2001, saying it would be “unfair to link an easier commute with a person’s ability to pay.”

The proposal Mr. Glendening rejected would have made a new lane on U.S. Route 50 in Prince George’s County a HOT lane. The lane instead became a high-occupancy vehicle lane, restricted to vehicles with at least two occupants.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, is waiting for the results of a state study before deciding on the proposal, Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said.

“His ultimate goal is trying to provide the easiest commute possible in the most taxpayer-friendly way,” Mr. Fawell said. “And we’ll look at any option that can help us reach that goal.”

State officials are considering HOT status for four additional lanes planned for Interstate 95 from the Baltimore line to White Marsh, for the proposed Intercounty Connector highway in Montgomery County and for lanes planned for the Capital Beltway.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Trent Kittleman said the state would not convert lanes to HOT lanes, but would use only lanes on new roads or new lanes added to existing roads.

“We would never charge drivers to use lanes they’ve been using for years,” Mr. Kittleman said. “That is not in the plan in any way, shape or form.”

The Maryland Transportation Authority board did not act on the proposal presented Tuesday, but some members said they support the idea.

“They’re a very viable alternative, and they have a great deal of capacity for raising revenue and reducing congestion,” said board member Walter E. Woodford Jr.

Three highways nationwide charge solo drivers to use express lanes, one outside Los Angeles, one in San Diego and one in Houston, which state officials said have been well received.

“If you just add lanes and there’s more congestion, there’s still no escape,” Edward J. Regan III, a HOT lanes consultant, told the transportation authority board. “People like the ability to get out of traffic when they need to, even if they don’t do it every day.”

HOT lanes are generally supported by environmental groups — if they are carved out of existing lanes — as a way to make highways more efficient and reduce pollution.

“We would rather see an existing lane become a HOT lane than to be adding more lanes,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland, an environmental group. “More lanes, we know, doesn’t solve the problem.”

Miss Schmidt-Perkins said she would like to see HOT toll revenue used on transit programs.

John White, a spokesman for AAA Maryland, said that adding tolls to existing lanes amounts to double taxation because the roads were built with taxpayers’ money. “But if the only way to add capacity to the system is through tolls to finance the construction of new lanes, then we would be in favor of that,” Mr. White said.

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