Maryland Considering Express Toll Lanes

Published June 1, 2004

Maryland’s Department of Transportation announced in early May it may establish a statewide system of express toll lanes, which department officials believe would help ease congestion on the region’s highways.

“Money collected from drivers who use the express lanes to avoid traffic delays would make it possible to add lanes to major highways that might not otherwise be built for 40 or 50 years, if ever,” Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan said on May 4.

“We have horrible congestion problems in Maryland,” Flanagan continued, addressing a news conference where department officials displayed toll lane plans as part of the solution for traffic problems.

Express toll lanes are special lanes added to highways that allow motorists to pay their way out of traffic jams. An electronic device mounted on a motorist’s vehicle allows fees to be automatically deducted from a pre-paid account as the car or truck moves along the express toll lane at highway speeds.

Study Favors Congestion Tolls
Research supports the express toll lane concept as a mechanism for reducing congestion. “Roads are a scarce good in great demand, but since we don’t charge people for using them, overcrowding is the inevitable and eternal consequence,” write Robert W. Poole Jr. and C. Kenneth Orski in Regulation magazine, published by the Cato Institute. “The way to alleviate congestion is to charge people sufficiently to reduce demand, thus allowing the free flow of vehicles, a principle as elementary and undeniably true as the law of gravity.”

“People across the socio-economic spectrum are using them,” Flanagan said when questioned at the Maryland news conference by an individual concerned that the new toll lanes would become Lexus Lanes. “Low-income drivers may not use them consistently, but may be willing to pay the toll when it is important to get somewhere quickly,” he responded. Flanagan also noted, “drivers who use the regular lanes also benefit because some traffic is diverted to the new express lanes.

“Toll lanes also could be used by commuter buses, making mass transit a more attractive choice for commuters,” he added.

“Driving on the nation’s highways has nearly doubled over the past two decades, while road capacity has increased only 5 percent,” wrote Poole in a recent column for Forbes magazine. “No wonder we’re stuck in traffic.

“Although we may not be able to build our way out of congestion, we can price our way out of it,” concluded Poole. “Drivers in California can buy a 65 mph trip in a limited access lane at rush hour. At the busiest times the price can exceed $6 to go 10 miles. That may seem expensive, but saving 20 minutes can be worth it, even to people of modest means, like a working mother racing to pick up her child from day care before a late fee of $20 kicks in. By installing a toll tag on your dashboard, you get congestion insurance.”

According to, Maryland officials have not yet decided to build express toll lanes. State Highway Administrator Neil Pederson described the lanes as “full-fledged alternatives” that will get serious consideration.

John Skorburg is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

The Regulation magazine article by Poole and Orski, “Hot Lanes: A Better Way to Attack Urban Highway Congestion,” is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and search for document #15044. The article is also available at the Cato Institute Web site at