Poll reveals support for Maryland's express lane toll plan

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 5/14/2019

Despite efforts by some Washington, D.C., councilmembers to stop Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to toll three major highways, a recent poll suggests that residents in affected areas mostly favor the idea.

According to a Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted from April 25 to May 2, more than 60% of those surveyed said they would support Gov. Hogan’s plan to add express lanes to Interstate 270 and the Beltway in Maryland, which drivers could use by paying a toll.

The poll surveyed approximately 1,500 people, which includes about 500 residents each in D.C., Maryland suburbs and Virginia suburbs. Regarding Maryland’s express toll idea, support was voiced by 59% of D.C. residents, 55% of Maryland suburb residents and 67% of Virginia suburb residents.

Support among voters in D.C. is perhaps more interesting considering several D.C. councilmembers introduced a resolution on April 23 that urges Gov. Hogan to reconsider the widening proposal.

“Numerous studies and decades of real-world experience across the world have shown that adding lanes to highways does little to reduce congestion,” the resolution states. “When roads are widened, more drivers are encouraged to use them, and the end result is the same traffic problem as before.”

On the other hand, area residents are less supportive of proposals in the D.C. area that will increase the use of adjustable rate tolls – i.e., more expensive tolls during heavy traffic times. More than half of all area residents opposed the idea, including 49% of D.C. residents opposing it. Only 47% in D.C. support the idea, with the remaining 4% having no opinion.

Those results may throw a wrench in the idea to consider congestion pricing in the capital. On May 2, the D.C. Council’s Committee of Transportation and Environment proposed spending $475,000 on a congestion pricing study during a markup hearing.

Currently, no U.S. city has implemented congestion pricing. However, congestion pricing was approved in New York earlier this year. The plan will not go into effect until 2021 at the earliest.

Another proposal will build an additional bridge across the Potomac between Sterling, Va., and Poolesville, Md. More than half of those surveyed do not find building the bridge to be important. However, if the bridge is built, more than half support paying for it via tolls, while more than half opposed the funding mechanism of raising local taxes.

Transit losing favor among commuters

Part of the theory of opposing widening highways and supporting congestion pricing among D.C. councilmembers is to take cars off the roads by encouraging mass transit. However, poll results reveal that may be an uphill battle.

Approximately 60% want D.C. area leaders to focus on improving roads or reducing traffic, while only 20% want an emphasis on improving the Metrorail. Over the past five years, only 16% of those surveyed said they ride the Metrorail more often, with 40% riding less often.

Although 68% gave the Metrorail a positive rating, that is down from 75% in 2005. Nearly half said the Metrorail system has neither gotten worse or better, suggesting nothing significant has changed in the last two years.

More than half said they would ride the Metrorail more if station locations were more convenient, it had fewer breakdowns, trains arrived more frequently, and if the costs of parking prices at stations were lowered.

Nearly three-quarters support major local government investment to build a second Metro tunnel between Virginia and D.C. There was less support for increasing fares to fund such an investment, with 55% behind such a plan.

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