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Op Lanes Maryland is the largest initiative in the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration’s (MDOT SHA) Traffic Relief Plan (TRP). The I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study is the first element of Op Lanes Maryland. The Study will determine the potential improvements for the study corridors, evaluate environmental impacts associated with those improvements, and seek public feedback on the study’s key components.
OP LANES MARYLAND
What is Op Lanes Maryland?
Op Lanes Maryland is the largest initiative in Maryland’s Traffic Relief Plan (TRP) and includes all of I-495 and I-270 in Maryland. As shown on the map below, the limits of Op Lanes Maryland feature more than 70 miles of interstate, from south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, including all of I-495 in Maryland to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and all of I-270 from I-495 to I-70, including the east and west I-270 spurs.
Is transit being considered as part of Op Lanes Maryland?
Yes. Op Lanes Maryland includes significant improvements and provides new opportunities for transit. Op Lanes Maryland is part of the National Capital Region’s long-range transportation plan that includes almost twice as much investment in transit as in roads between now and 2045.
A Managed Lanes Transit Work Group was formed to determine how MDOT and local transit agencies can work together to enhance transit services on the proposed managed lanes on I-495 and I-270 and create an interconnected transit/highway system. MDOT collaborated with counties affected by Op Lanes Maryland, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counites; counties which may benefit from the proposed managed lanes, Anne Arundel, Charles, and Howard counties; and regional agencies and transit service providers, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA), and MDOT MTA over a 10-month period to identify potential improvements to provide new opportunities for transit in the National Capital Region. The result of this effort is captured in the Transit Service Coordination Report, which is intended to inform discussions with the affected counties as MDOT works collaboratively to identify regional transit service improvements within the framework of Op Lanes Maryland.
Potential improvements identified by the Transit Work Group will provide new opportunities for transit including improved bus operating speeds and reliability and service for underserved suburb to suburb transit markets. New options to access existing and proposed transit through new access will also be provided. Without managed lanes, these new travel choices and opportunities are not possible due to the significant congestion on I-495 and I-270.
Why not use state funds to build out this infrastructure if it is so desperately needed?
State funding does not exist for Op Lanes Maryland. There are insufficient funds in the Transportation Trust Fund to finance this infrastructure. One of the benefits of the public-private partnership delivery model is that the private sector is able to obtain financing to invest in the state’s infrastructure, in return for the revenue generated through a P3 Agreement. The goal of Op Lanes Maryland is to provide congestion relief to the region at no net cost to the State’s transportation funding.
What is Phase 1?
Phase 1, also known as the New American Legion Bridge I-270 Traffic Relief Plan, is focused on replacing the aging American Legion Bridge and relieving traffic congestion at one of the nation’s biggest bottlenecks. It will provide new options and opportunities for carpoolers, transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians across the interstates, both in Maryland and in Virginia. It consists of Phase 1 South and Phase 1 North.
The section of Phase 1 North, which involves I-270 from I-370 to I-70, is undergoing a separate environmental review process and will be delivered after Phase 1 South.
What are MDOT and MDTA’s roles and responsibilities?
MDOT, including MDOT SHA, and MDTA are joint reporting agencies for Maryland for Op Lanes Maryland and will both be party to the P3 agreements.
MDOT SHA is responsible for the overall management of Op Lanes Maryland development and delivery and will be administering the future Section P3 Agreements.
MDTA is the only state entity with the authority to set and fix tolls for Maryland’s transportation facilities. On November 18, 2021, the MDTA Board approved toll rate ranges for Phase 1 South’s high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes that included rate caps to protect consumers. To do so, the Authority conducted a toll rate setting process in the same manner used for its existing facilities that was separate and distinct from those under the Op Lanes Maryland program. The process included a series of public comment periods, reviews and hearings. For more information, visit ALB 270 Toll Setting Home | MDTA (maryland.gov).
What are Pre-NEPA Activities?
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a federal law that directs federal agencies to conduct studies to ensure proper consideration of the environment prior to undertaking a major federal action.
The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), of Op Lanes Maryland and in coordination with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), is now conducting Pre-NEPA planning activities for potential congestion relief improvements on I-270 from I-370 to I-70, which include:
- identifying the purpose and need;
- developing a range of alternatives;
- reviewing the existing and future traffic volumes, and existing environmental conditions; and
- engaging the public in the Pre-NEPA planning activities.
The Pre-NEPA effort will conclude with a summary report of engineering, traffic, and environmental activities, as well as input received from the public. These preliminary activities may result in the initiation of a NEPA study. Decisions made during these early activities will be applied toward any NEPA environmental review process.
How are the Pre-NEPA Activities related to Op Lanes Maryland?
I-495 & I-270 MANAGED LANES STUDY (MLS)
What is the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study (MLS)? What was the study’s purpose?
- The I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study is the first environmental study of Op Lanes Maryland. The I-495 & I-270 MLS was conducted in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as other resource protection provisions. The I-495 & I-270 MLS included 48 miles of proposed improvements along I-495 from south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Fairfax County, Virginia to west of MD 5 in Prince George’s County, Maryland and along I-270 from I-495 to I-370 in Montgomery County, Maryland, including the east and west I-270 spurs.
- The purpose of the I-495 & I-270 MLS was to study alternatives that address congestion, improve trip reliability on I-495 and I-270 within the study limits and enhance existing and planned multimodal mobility and connectivity. The Study was concluded in August 2022 with approval of a Record of Decision by the Federal Highway Administration.
What was the timeline for the environmental study (NEPA) process for the MLS?
The NEPA process for the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study officially began with the Notice of Intent to develop an EIS, in March 2018. Throughout the process, MDOT SHA engaged the public through extensive efforts including 16 large public workshops, seven public hearings and over 200 stakeholder meetings. MDOT SHA also sought input from federal, State and local regulatory agencies to inform the development of alternatives, environmental analyses, and identification of measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts. A Draft EIS (DEIS) was published in July 2020, followed by a Supplemental DEIS (SDEIS) in October 2021 and a Final EIS (FEIS) in June 2022. The MLS concluded in August 2022 with approval of Alternative 9- Phase 1 South as the Selected Alternative in the Record of Decision.
What is the MLS’ Selected Alternative?
- The Selected Alternative, Alternative 9-Phase 1 South, includes a two-lane, HOT managed lanes network on I-495 and I-270 within the limits of Phase 1 South only. On I-495, the Selected Alternative consists of adding two, new HOT managed lanes in each direction from south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway to west of MD 187. On I-270, the Selected Alternative consists of converting the one existing HOV lane in each direction to a HOT managed lane and adding one new HOT managed lane in each direction on I-270 from I-495 to north of I-370 and on the I-270 east and west spurs. There is no action, or no improvements included at this time on I-495 east of the I-270 east spur to MD 5. Along I-270, the existing collector distributor lanes from Montrose Road to I-370 would be removed as part of the proposed improvements. The HOT managed lanes would be separated from the general purpose lanes using flexible delineators placed within a buffer. Transit buses and HOV 3+ vehicles would be permitted to use the HOT managed lanes toll-free.
- While the Selected Alternative does not include improvements to the remaining parts of I-495 within the limits of the MLS, improvements on the remainder of the interstate system may still be needed in the future and would advance separately, subject to additional environmental studies, analysis and collaboration with the public, stakeholders, and local agencies.
Why does the Op Lanes Maryland program extend to I-70 and the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study ends at I-370?
- In establishing the limits of the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study, MDOT SHA considered logical termini and independent utility so that, if no additional transportation improvements are made, the limits have rational beginning and end points within the larger Op Lanes Maryland program. The limits have been established considering major points of traffic generation, travel patterns and usage.
- Transportation improvements along the northern portion of I-270 between I-370 and I-70 would need to address a different set of travel demand, travel patterns, and usage from the MLS Selected Alternative.
Why do the new High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes need to be tolled?
- The HOT lanes will use dynamically priced tolls to maintain free-flowing traffic flow. When the lanes become more congested, the toll rates will increase, and when the lanes become less congested, the toll rates will decrease.
- The HOT lanes toll rates will change in segments as often as every five minutes based on its real-time traffic volumes and speeds.
- Phase 1 South is being designed to maintain speeds of 45 mph or greater in the HOT lanes in compliance with federal law. Customers will pay the toll rate in effect when they enter the HOT lanes regardless of toll rate changes that occur in any tolled segment during their trip.
- This will provide vehicles choosing to pay a toll to use the lanes or High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV 3+) that would travel for free – such as transit buses, carpoolers/vanpoolers and motorcycles – with faster, more reliable trips.
- Travelers who chose to use the free (general purpose) lanes will also see reduced travel times as seen along the I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes in Virginia and the I-95 Express Toll Lanes (ETL) north of Baltimore.
- As a result, the HOT lanes will provide new opportunities for ridesharing and regional bus transit services multimodal congestion relief that improves the movement of people, goods and services in the National Capital Region.
- For more information about tolling for Phase 1 South visit: https://mdta.maryland.gov/ALB270TollSetting/TollRateRangeSettingProcessAndApprovedTollRateRanges
PHASE 1 SOUTH
What is Phase 1 South?
- Phase 1 South begins in the vicinity of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and crosses the American Legion Bridge to just north of I-370 on I-270 and is the first portion of the larger New American Legion Bridge I-270 Traffic Relief Plan that is part of Op Lanes Maryland.
- Denoted as the Selected Alternative in the I-495 & I-270 MLS Record of Decision for the project, Phase 1 South would replace the more than 60-year-old American Legion Bridge while providing two new high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in each direction on I-495 from south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Fairfax, Virginia across the bridge to I-270 and up I-270 to just north of I-370.
- Vehicles with three or more occupants -- such as regional transit buses and carpool/vanpools -- could travel in the HOT lanes for free while other vehicles could pay a variably priced toll to travel in them when they need more reliable travel times. At the same time, everyone can choose to use the existing general purpose lanes on both interstates as they do today -- free of charge.
- Phase 1 South also would include a host of other new or upgraded pedestrian and bicycle improvements, including a new shared-use path across the American Legion Bridge that directly connects the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath in Maryland with new trails being built in Fairfax, Virginia.
What transit benefits will the Phase 1 South provide?
- The new HOT lanes will offer significant opportunities for new regional transit bus services that will allow people to travel more quickly, reliably and for free from I-370 across the new American Legion Bridge to seamlessly connect with the larger Express Lanes network in Northern Virginia.
- Major new transit bus services that will be possible due to HOT lanes on the I-270 corridor, include direct services from:
- Gaithersburg to Bethesda
- Bethesda to Tysons Corner, Virginia
- Germantown to Tysons Corner, Virginia
- These new bus routes would be designed so that any combination of destinations in the corridor could be accessed on this network with a single transfer.
- Connections will be provided between the HOT lanes and regional transit stations.
- In addition, a number of capital improvements would also be made to:
- add new bus bays at the Shady Grove Metro,
- increase parking at the Westfield Montgomery Mall Transit Center, and
- The new American Legion Bridge also will be designed and constructed to not preclude a possible future transit line across the bridge.
Who benefits from High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes?
- All travelers on the highway system and the local area network benefit from managed HOT lanes. HOT lanes improve highway operations and provide the driving public and transit riders with reduced congestion, trip reliability and improved safety.
- HOT lanes customers should anticipate congestion-free and reliable speed conditions.
- Transit customers would also benefit from increased reliability and congestion free trips. HOT lanes can significantly improve transit travel times and transit system reliability that have limited regional express-bus services utilizing the congested general purpose lanes. Travelers who choose to pay a toll in the new managed HOT lanes will experience reliable and reduced travel times. Travelers who continue to use the free (general purpose) lanes will also see reduced travel times as seen along the I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes in Virginia and the I-95 Express Toll Lanes (ETL) north of Baltimore.
Why do some people call Managed Lanes or HOT Lanes “Lexus Lanes”?
- The ‘Lexus-Lane’ claim has been dismissed by studies based on actual user data that shows users of all income levels benefit from reduced travel times, including managed lane users and those who continue to use the general purpose or toll-free lanes. HOT lane usage is not closely correlated to income. Phase 1 South’s HOT lanes would provide more multimodal options and opportunities for more reliable travel. Nationwide research shows a majority of travelers choose to use such lanes occasionally for critical or important trips, like being on-time for appointments or school events.
- Experience in Virginia on I-495 and I-95 shows most users spend less per month on tolls than they do on a single tank of gas. Most trips cost less than lunch at a fast, casual restaurant. The Washington Post reported in 2018: “…most 495 and 95 express users are not affluent…. About 60 percent of the frequent users said they have household incomes of less than $100,000…” Also, according to a Washington Post report, the average toll rates for Virginia’s managed lanes on I-495 and I-95 are $5.40 and $8.45 per trip, respectively. Experience in Virginia on I-495 shows that 82 percent of customers spend less than $20 a month and 85 percent of trips were less than $12. On the Virginia I-95 Express Lanes, 74 percent of customers spend less than $20 a month.
How will High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes charge vehicles in real time? Will they depend on cameras, prepaid passes, etc.?
- Tolls would be collected using an all-electronic (cashless) toll collection system with overhead tolling gantries at multiple locations along the Phase 1 South.
- With all-electronic tolling, drivers do not stop to pay tolls. Instead, tolls are collected at highway speeds with sensors and cameras.
- There are three ways vehicles using the HOT lanes could pay their toll:
- BEST! Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) with E-ZPass account: When a vehicle equipped with an E-ZPass transponder travels under a toll gantry, the transponder transmits an identifying number that registers the vehicle's use of the HOT lanes at that location and an electronic payment system charges the user the toll. E-ZPass customers pay the lowest tolls on every trip, and E-ZPass transponders are free. Also, there’s no monthly fee for Maryland residents.
- BETTER! Pay-By-Plate (Registered Video): Drivers without an E-ZPass account may register their license plate and a credit card for payment. When registered drivers travel under the toll gantries, a video image of the vehicle’s license plate is taken and the corresponding credit card is charged. No prepaid balance or transponder are required. The toll rate is 25% higher than the base rate (E-ZPass account), and Pay-By-Plate is only valid for Maryland toll facilities.
- GOOD! Video Tolling (Unregistered Video): Drivers without E-ZPass or Pay-By-Plate accounts may use the HOT lanes and pay their toll after receiving a mailed invoice, called a Notice of Toll Due (NOTD). However, a higher toll rate is charged for Video Tolling (50% more than the base rate for E-ZPass account holders). Customers can receive an early payment discount of 15% off their toll up to $5 for unregistered video trips if paid before notice is mailed.
- For more information about how all-electronic tolls are collected and payment methods, visit DriveEzMD.com.
Have Managed Lanes worked elsewhere?
- Yes, when express toll lanes on I-95 north of Baltimore were added, the general purpose lanes saw a 12% reduction in delay
- In Virginia, data shows a 7% reduction in travel time on the I-495 northbound free general purpose lanes in the morning peak time and a 15% reduction in travel time on I-95 southbound general purpose free lanes in the evening peak time over the last 5 years
- On I-95 in Florida where express toll lanes were added (4 general purpose lanes + 2 Express Lanes), the Express Lanes maintain a greater than 55 mph speed while the general purpose lanes improved from 19 mph to 41 mph during the evening peak
What determines if my property is needed?
A variety of elements contribute to the need for additional property outside of MDOT SHA’s property. These elements include roadway construction, grading, clearing, landscaping, stormwater management, and noise barrier replacement/construction. Adjacent property would be needed in areas where MDOT SHA right-of-way is limited and where these elements cannot be located elsewhere.
What are my rights related to property acquisition?
How far in advance will I know that my property is needed?
MDOT SHA will advise you well in advance of actual negotiations. A letter will be mailed to you explaining that your property will be appraised and you have the right to be present.
What will I be paid for my property if it is needed?
MDOT SHA will offer fair market value of your property, which will include just compensation for the property needed. Relocation assistance is a separate benefit that is provided if the owner is eligible.
Will I be compensated for indirect impacts, such as noise or decline in property value for my property?
MDOT SHA can only provide compensation as part of the property acquisition process. However, we will work with you to address concerns related to any possible effects on your property.
How have we reduced potential property needs?
MDOT SHA has attempted to stay within existing ROW to the extent possible to avoid and/or minimize potential property needs from residents and businesses.
Design and engineering options were analyzed where potential property impacts were identified. Efforts to reduce the potential impacts included reducing grass and grading areas next to the roadway, adding retaining walls, modifying interchange ramp designs, adjusting direct access locations, shifting the centerline alignment, and locating stormwater facilities underground.
How will we continue to reduce potential property needs?
MDOT SHA has identified reasonable measures to reduce potential property needs as part of the preliminary design for NEPA. As this process moves forward, MDOT SHA is committed to working with residents and businesses to identify approaches that could further reduce potential property needs or mitigate any effects to property.
More importantly, MDOT SHA will engage and incentivize the private sector through innovation to reduce property needs.
Why would MDOT SHA consider using a Public-Private Partnership (P3)?
Reasons for utilizing a Public-Private Partnership include:
- Projects Constructed Faster: P3 projects can move forward when the State does not have available funding because the private sector finances the improvements based on future funding or revenue. It would take more than 25 years to fund Op Lanes Maryland congestion relief improvements relying on State funds and would use all of MDOT’s capital expansion budget for this one program.
- Transfer of Risks: The State and the private sector share the risks based on who can best manage each risk to provide the best value to the State.
- Operations and Maintenance: The State can benefit from having the private sector operate the highway and maintain it (for example, pavement repairs, grass mowing) at a more economical cost. Without Op Lanes Maryland, it is estimated that MDOT will need to invest $1.2 billion in bridge replacement/rehabilitation and pavement rehabilitation over the next decade simply to just maintain the existing roadways on I-495 and I-270 in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in a state of good repair, with no congestion relief.
- Limited Government Funding: Projects, including P3 projects, that include a future revenue source may be constructed with limited or no governmental funding upfront. In fact, Op Lanes Maryland has a goal to implement the Program at no net cost to the State.
Is P3 the same as privatization?
No. The State will retain ownership of the new facility and its highway improvements and be responsible to ensure the facilities meet their public function throughout the life of the agreement. When the agreement ends, all the assets will be returned to the State in a pre-agreed condition.
How would the private sector partners, or developers, make their money?
The private sector partner developers would receive its compensation through revenues generated from tolls. If the managed lanes do not create enough revenue to sustain the private sector's investment, the private sector investment would be at risk, not the State.
Is there the risk that the private sector partner or the project will go bankrupt? Would bankruptcy result in potential additional costs to the State?
The private sector partner could go bankrupt during the term of the project. In such circumstances, bankruptcy would not give rise to any liability to the State for additional costs arising from the bankruptcy.
As shown in the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) January 2020 report, “Public-Private Partnerships for Transportation and Water Infrastructure,” while a few toll projects have declared bankruptcy, there are no cases where the taxpayers bailed out the private investors. For instance, when the private partner for the State Highway 130 (SH 130) project, which was a new tolled highway in Texas, filed for bankruptcy, the equity investors lost their investment and the lenders and bondholders attained ownership in the private company in the restructuring that emerged from the bankruptcy settlement. There was no bailout from Texas state taxpayers and the road continued to be open in an uninterrupted manner for usage by the traveling public.
Furthermore, it is important to differentiate between the bankruptcy risk for a managed lane project versus a fully tolled highway facility. Whereas fully tolled facilities have declared bankruptcy in the past, this has not been the case for managed lane projects.
What is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?
The NEPA is a federal law that directs federal agencies to conduct studies to ensure proper consideration of the environment prior to the federal government undertaking any proposed action that may affect the environment.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is working closely with MDOT SHA to conduct the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study and the I-270 Pre-NEPA Activities. Public involvement and engagement are a large part of the NEPA process and public input is received throughout the process.
What is an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)?
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a NEPA document prepared when the proposed action will have significant environmental effects. It considers a range of reasonable alternatives, analyzes the potential impacts resulting from the alternatives, demonstrates compliance with other applicable environmental laws and requirements and documents the decision-making process in identifying a selected alternative. The EIS documentation consists of a Draft EIS (DEIS), Final EIS (FEIS), and Record of Decision (ROD).
What is a Record of Decision (ROD)?
A Record of Decision (ROD) generally concludes the NEPA process for an EIS. The ROD explains the lead federal agency’s decision and discusses measures for mitigation of environmental impacts.
What are Managed Lanes?
Highway facilities that use strategies, such as lane-use restrictions or congestion pricing, to optimize the number of vehicles that can travel the highway to maintain free-flow speeds and keep people moving. Managed lanes may include, but are not limited to, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, high-occupancy toll lanes, express toll lanes, and bus only lanes.
What is Dynamic Pricing?
Dynamic pricing continually adjusts tolls to respond to real-time traffic to maintain a free-flowing level of traffic in managed lanes. Pricing will be set, within an established range, to ensure that the managed lanes are meeting a consistent congestion free reliable trip. Nationwide, dynamic pricing based on real-time traffic conditions is used to regulate demand every five to 15 minutes. With dynamic pricing, drivers choosing to use the managed lanes would pay the toll rate shown on the digital sign prior to their entrance into the managed lanes. Drivers that choose to travel in the general-purpose lanes for free will also experience reduced travel times.
What are High-Occupancy Toll Lanes?
High-Occupancy Toll Lanes (HOT) are dedicated managed lanes within highway rights-of-way that single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) motorists may use by paying a variably priced toll and high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) motorists may use by paying a discounted toll or no toll at all. Toll payments may vary by time of day and level of congestion.
What are Express Toll Lanes?
Express Toll Lanes (ETL) are dedicated managed lanes within highway right-of-way that any motorist, regardless of vehicle occupancy, may use by paying a variably priced toll, depending on time of day and level of congestion.
What is a Public-Private Partnership?
A Public-Private Partnership (P3) is an alternative model for delivery of a capital project. A P3 is a partnership between the public or governmental sector with private entities. The P3 seeks to harness private sector expertise, innovation and funding in order to deliver public infrastructure for the benefit of the public owner and users of the infrastructure. P3s seek to successfully leverage the respective strengths of the public and private sectors to deliver large, complex infrastructure projects in a cost effective and timely fashion. Functions under a P3 structure may include designing, building, financing, operating, and maintaining a transportation facility.