Maryland’s governor is banking on the Beltway and outer interstates as the keys to improving commuter transportation in Maryland.
Larry Hogan today announced a $461 million plan to relieve traffic in the Baltimore area, mostly concentrated in the suburbs. About a third of that money would go toward converting the inside shoulders of the inner and outer loops of the upper Beltway into new lanes, stretching 19 miles from I-70 in Woodlawn to MD-43 in White Marsh, and adding adaptive metering to Beltway ramps.
Another $210 million would go toward extending the existing northbound express toll lanes on I-95 by nearly eight miles, from MD-43 in White Marsh to MD-24 in Edgewood. An additional $100 million would be spent designing and building a new interchange at the Beltway and I-70, an area known as the “triple bridges.”
Hogan said in a statement that the changes would relieve Beltway congestion for commuters. “The important traffic relief initiatives we are announcing today will benefit the daily lives of millions of drivers throughout the Baltimore region,” he said.
Paul Schonfeld, a transportation professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said the shoulder-lane plan could potentially make room for more cars, but has its pitfalls. For one, removing the inside shoulder means vehicles lose a place to stop in case of an emergency, further impeding traffic.
“If you take a shoulder lane and devote it to traffic, the volume tends to adjust to the additional available capacity, so you may have higher flows on the beltway,” Schonfeld said. However, “when you do get a car that stalls, the disruption, the delays could be greater than if a shoulder lane had been left available.”
The existing lanes may also have to be narrowed to accommodate the new one made out of the shoulder, he noted, further restricting traffic flow.
Ramp metering entails using traffic signals at on-ramps to control how often cars can enter. The strategy was first pioneered in Chicago and later added to more than a dozen major U.S. metro areas, including D.C, Minneapolis and Philadelphia, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The agency says such systems have reduced crash frequency and improved traffic volume and speed.
Schonfeld agrees metering is “an interesting idea” and could improve traffic flow on the Baltimore Beltway. However, he pointed out the tradeoffs for certain types of commuters. Sometimes metering system cater to some suburbs over others, and operate in a manner that disadvantages some parts of metropolitan areas.
“It’s possible that you get into those kinds of arguments among jurisdictions and neighborhoods about how the ramps are controlled and who they might or might not favor,” he said. “I hope somebody considers the political implications.”
The Hogan administration says it’s spent $7 billion in total on “new transportation projects within the Baltimore region,” including projects to widen the outer loop of the Beltway and reconstruct the interchange at the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and MD-175 in Hanover, among other highway projects.
In terms of public transportation, Hogan infamously nixed the Red Line light rail project for Baltimore several months into office in 2015, diverting $2.9 billion in funding to road projects in rural areas. This year, his administration has touted its $135 million BaltimoreLink bus system improvements in the city, along with its $27 million North Avenue Rising project, which was designed to boost mobility and revitalize the city’s east-west thoroughfare.
Aside from those projects and Elon Musk’s privately funded high-speed rail ambitions Hogan has his eyes on the highways. His administration hopes to add four new lanes to the B-W Parkway all the way to D.C., a project that requires convincing the federal government to give Maryland control of its 20 or so miles of the road.
South Baltimore is on Hogan’s mind, at least. His office said today that he’s applied for one $183 million federal funding to improve highway infrastructure around the Plank family’s much-awaited Port Covington project.
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