Tolls sought for Route 15 in Md. to help pay for road work

Local,Maryland,Transportation,Liz Essley

A Maryland lawmaker wants to start charging a toll on traffic-clogged Route 15 in Frederick County to help fund improvements to the road -- an option that is becoming increasingly popular among Washington-area officials short on transportation funding.

Maryland Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick, introduced legislation that would place a toll on the highway near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. The toll would pay for widening the road through Frederick, as well as for building interchanges, bridges and underpasses.

Experts say tolls, though unpopular with drivers, are a logical alternative in states that are having trouble raising all the money they need to build and maintain roads. Lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland are already considering several proposals to raise gas taxes to raise the additional money they need.

"We had to adapt to the reality that it's either this or nothing," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend. The car club first opposed state plans to impose a toll on the new Beltway Express Lanes in Virginia, but then endorsed it. "We're dealing with political reality. It's the quickest way to get a project done."

Experts agree that tolls may become far more common in the future as governments look for new ways to pay for road construction or manage congestion -- as they did with the new Intercounty Connector in Maryland and the Beltway Express Lanes in Virginia.

"I think it's actually a positive," said Ron Kirby, a transportation planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. "This is, in a way, probably what we should have done in the first place. Building freeway lanes in a growing area like this without pricing them is eventually going to lead to congestion you can't manage."

Virginia officials, already planning to impose tolls on express lanes on Interstate 95 just south of the Beltway, also may reinstate them along I-95 between Richmond and Petersburg --a move widely opposed by business groups and residents. The southern stretch of I-95 had tolls until 1992.

"They're getting a lot of pushback on that," Kirby said. "It's very tough to go back with tolls after you've taken them off."

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