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Motorists who use Maryland’s new High-Occupancy Toll lanes along Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway (I-495) can expect to pay — on average — about $1 per mile during the morning commute and approximately $1.50 per mile to get home, according to a preliminary set of toll ranges that were presented Thursday morning to the Maryland Transportation Authority board of directors.
It’s the first time motorists have seen specific toll rates since Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) unveiled his plan to add “express toll lanes” to the two highways in 2017.
MdTA Executive Director Jim Ports and Chief Financial Officer Deborah Sharpless stressed that the tolls are preliminary and subject to both public comment and approval by the board.
In the first phase of the project, the state and its private-sector concessionaire, Accelerate Maryland Partners, would widen the American Legion Bridge, the Beltway between the bridge and I-270, and I-270 from I-370 south.
If the project is approved, the consortium would finance and build the new lanes. They would run alongside the existing lanes, which would remain free.
Accelerate, which is led by two Australian firms, Transurban and Macquarie, would set the tolls and keep the vast amount of the revenue.
The rates would fluctuate throughout the day to maintain an average toll-lane speed of 45 miles per hour, state officials have said.
According to the Maryland Department of Transportation memo being circulated to the MdTA board, the “average” southbound commuter who travels the entire length of the first phase of the toll lanes — from I-370 to the bridge — would pay $6.82 between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.
The average northbound trip, from the bridge up I-270 to I-370, would run approximately $11.08 between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., according to the memo.
Buses and vehicles with three or more people can use the toll lanes for free.
The toll rates shared by MDOT with the MdTA board are “preliminary and pre-decisional,” according to the memo. They have not been formally submitted to the authority’s executive director, who must, by law, approve them.
Once the executive director gives his approval, the tolls would then be subject to a ratification by the board. That vote is not expected until October.
The public will have two windows for commenting on the tolls — one this spring and another later in the year after a proposed set of tolls has been formulated. They are essentially a “conversation-starter,” an official said.
The preliminary rates released publicly this morning include a “soft cap” of $1.50 per mile and a maximum of $3.76 per mile.
According to the memo, the owners of the toll lanes cannot exceed the soft cap unless the average traffic volume is greater than 1,600 cars for a five-minute period — or if vehicle speed in the express lanes dips below an average of 50 miles an hour for a five minute period.
The $1.50-per-mile preliminary “soft cap” toll rate listed in the memo would apply to two-axle vehicles. Trucks would pay more.
The base tolls are for people who have an active EZPass account. People who register for the state’s “pay-by-plate” program would face a $1.88-per-mile soft cap. Motorists who are “unregistered” would pay as much as $2.25-per-mile under the preliminary proposal.