While roadway congestion is a sign of robust economic activity, excessive congestion inhibits our economic performance by limiting the ability of consumers to access jobs, arrive on time for work and meetings, and efficiently access necessary services like education and healthcare. Many parts of the region suffer from excessive congestion today. Congestion is most acute in the Washington and Baltimore metro areas, as well as along the I-95 corridor connecting Richmond to the District. On average, congestion costs each Baltimore metro resident $1,100 annually and each Washington metro area resident $1,834 annually—the highest amount for any metro area in the nation.1 Without regional action, projections show congestion will worsen by 2040—growing by more than 150 percent throughout the Capital Region—eventually consuming 50 percent of the time spent in a vehicle.
With rising congestion and limited transportation funds, the Capital Region should maximize the performance of existing transportation infrastructure by expanding and coordinating a performance-driven toll network, making necessary investments to relieve chokepoints, and ensuring that scarce transportation dollars provide broad benefits that improve the entire transportation system, including safe travel options for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Capital Region Performance
What if a seamless performance-driven toll network on our highways gave you the option to pay to speed up your drive to make it to your daughter’s recital, while also ensuring carpools, vans, and buses are always the fastest movers on the road? Performance-driven tolling is a tool that, when deployed correctly, can reduce congestion, increase speeds, and improve reliability by allocating a fee to single-occupant vehicles. This creates incentives for consumers to divert trips to non-peak periods, increase the number of vehicle occupants to travel free of charge, or opt for public transportation and carpooling.
The Capital Region is at the national forefront of using performance-driven tolling to combat roadway congestion and improve mobility and access. In total, Maryland and Virginia have 35 toll facilities operating, under construction, or in planning stages (13 in Maryland and 22 in Virginia).2 However, not all the Capital Region’s toll facilities deliver performance-driven outcomes, and the region currently lacks the strong intra-regional coordination necessary to maximize the potential benefits of this innovative mobility solution. For example, Maryland plans to create toll facilities on I-495, I-270, and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and connect these toll lanes with Virginia’s I-495 express lanes, but there is no requirement for the two toll networks to seamlessly integrate.
Plans to connect Virginia’s and Maryland’s toll systems will also require coordination and agreement to make critical investments to rebuild and expand the American Legion Bridge. Commuters on the northbound Inner Loop of I-495 face daily backups where express lane users exit those lanes on the Virginia side of the American Legion Bridge before passing into Maryland, which does not provide an express option. This section of road is the Washington metro area’s worst bottleneck, with peak period congestion increasing by 30 percent from 2015 to 2017.3 Addressing this and other key roadway chokepoints in the Capital Region is critical for improving the performance of our transportation network.
By coordinating tolling among the states in the Capital Region, we can ensure that toll facilities give drivers the reliable travel at higher speeds they need when their time is limited. As new tolling charges are considered and implemented, and as existing tolls evolve and connect, coordination among Maryland, Virginia, and the District will be key for reducing congestion and improving our regional transportation system. If done correctly, expanding and connecting the Capital Region’s toll network using performance-based tolling could produce significant congestion benefits, with estimates suggesting peak period delay could be reduced by 11 percent.4 Analysis conducted in 2017 by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board’s (TPB) Long-Range Plan Task Force found that a toll network would directly address several of the Washington metro area’s most significant roadway bottlenecks, including a new American Legion Bridge.5 Charging drivers a toll to enter congested central business districts is another cost-effective way to reduce congestion and raise revenues that can improve the performance of the entire transportation system. London, Stockholm, and Singapore have implemented decongestion pricing programs—resulting in 20-30 percent congestion reduction.6
The Capital Region benefits from hundreds of miles of multi-use trails, and investments in a few critical trail connections for bicyclists—and infrastructure for pedestrians—can achieve further reductions in congestion, increase economic development, and improve community health outcomes. The Baltimore and Washington metro areas have clear strategies to close gaps between existing trails, and the Richmond metro area should develop such a strategy. If executed well, the region has the potential to generate economic benefits as high as an eight-to-one return on investment as seen in other U.S. regions and reduce rates of chronic diseases, which in turn, reduces direct health treatment costs in the community.7
- Expand and coordinate the region’s highway performance-driven toll lane network
- Investigate a system to charge drivers entering the Washington metro area’s most congested central business districts
- Complete the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network and Capital Trails Network, and establish a Richmond trail network strategy
- “Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition.” Rails-To-Trails Conservancy. https://www.railstotrails.org/our-work/trailnation/baltimore-greenway-trails-coalition/
- “Trail Projects.” Capital Trails Coalition. http://capitaltrailscoalition.org/trail-projects/
- “Item 11-Information: Non-Motorized Priority Projects.” TPB Technical Committee Meeting Materials. MWCOG, January 2018. https://www.mwcog.org/assets/1/28/01052018_-_Item_5_-_Non-Motorized_Priority_Initiatives.pdf
- Capital Trails Coalition email exchange with the Partnership.
- Plan 2040. Richmond Regional Transportation Planning Organization. Amended March 2017. http://www.richmondregional.org/plan2040/plan2040_MTP.pdf
- Richmond Region Bicycle Infrastructure Report. BikeWalk RVA. February 2016. https://www.sportsbackers.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/BaselineReport_2016_online.pdf
- “The Atlanta Beltline in 5.” Atlanta Beltline. https://beltline.org/about/the-atlanta-beltline-project/atlanta-beltline-overview/
- “We Are on the Trail to a New Future for Atlanta.” Atlanta Beltline. https://beltline.org/progress/planning/trail-planning/
- “A Catalyst for Economic Growth and Renewal.” The Atlanta Beltline. https://beltline.org/progress/progress/economic-development-real-estate/
- “Trail Facts.” Indianapolis Cultural Trail. https://indyculturaltrail.org/alongthetrail/facts-and-figures/
- “Case Study: Nashville, TN.” Transportation for America and the APHA. http://t4america.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Nashville-Case-Study.pdf