- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

Virginia and Maryland transportation leaders are looking more to toll lanes as a way to ease congestion.

Virginia is considering proposals to add privately financed toll lanes to the Capital Beltway, Interstates 395 and 66 and the Dulles Toll Road, as well as to highways in other parts of Virginia.

Maryland transportation officials are studying a statewide network of express toll lanes, including on the Beltway and Interstate 270. The state proposal for the Intercounty Connector, which would link Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, would make it a toll road.

The price to get into the express lanes would vary depending upon congestion, and the money would be collected electronically.

“Travel time is so important people are willing to pay for a premium service,” said Marsha Kaiser, the Maryland Department of Transportation’s director of planning and capital programming. Buses could use the lanes for free , but everyone else would have to pay.

Virginia plans high-occupancy toll — or HOT — lanes, which would be free to car pools with three or more people.

Miss Kaiser said Maryland can’t make HOT lanes because there isn’t enough roadway room to enforce the car-pool restriction. She said the state still would encourage car pooling and bus transit by building parking areas and drop-off and pickup points.

Maryland also might follow Virginia’s example and try to partner with private companies to help pay for road projects.

Virginia is negotiating with a company to add two HOT lanes to the Beltway, and is looking at proposals for other roads.

Pierce Homer, deputy secretary of the Virginia Department of Transportation, said guaranteeing car poolers can use the express lanes for free is difficult.

“It is easy to cheat, and it is expensive to enforce,” Mr. Homer said. Possible ideas include separate transponders for HOV vehicles.

Some environmentalists stress that the states also should be studying how the lanes would connect to bus and rail service to encourage commuters to use mass transit.

AAA Mid-Atlantic worries that the plan penalizes the poor, but spokesman John Townsend said he is not as opposed to the idea as he was in the past.

“In Washington, what’s the other choice?” Mr. Townsend said.

Both states expect some express toll lanes or HOT lanes to be in use by the end of the decade.

Officials spoke yesterday during the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board.

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