A tolls proposal right here in Frederick MD on 'my' 15 - a Xmas present!
2012/12/23: State senator Ron Young (Dem, Frederick), a former mayor of Frederick City and long the most prominent local pol has introduced a bill in the Maryland state Senate (SB15) to seek the federal OK for a toll on US15 at a single toll point at the Pennsylvania border. The bill scheduled for a first reading January 9 specifies that the toll revenues raised be used for:
(1) a US15 interchange at Monocacy Boulevard on the immediate northside of Frederick city
(2) widening the US15 expressway within the city of Frederick from 2x2 lanes to three lanes each direction
(3) upgrading US15 between immediately north of Frederick from surface arterial to full expressway standard with grade separations up to the Pennsylvania border.
The first two projects here in the city are almost through the planning and permitting processes, and have only stalled because of the total lack of money in Annapolis or DC to actually build anything major.
Montgomery County greens' lullabies to rail in light and heavy versions have long imposed a veto of any practical work on I-270 to accommodate real 'mass transit' as self-provided daily by hundreds of thousands of drivers of rubber-tired vehicles.
Widening of the 7 miles of urban expressway of US15 through the city has been the subject of that protracted I-270/US15 planning process for widening I-270 from I-370/ICC in Gaithersburg all the way to its terminus at I-70 here in Frederick and up US15 through Frederick to the northern edge of the city.
US15 is a extension of I-270 north to Gettysburg PA and Harrisburg. It is the route to Fort Detrich, Camp David, Gettysburg Battlefield and the Penn Pike (I-76) and central Pennsylvania.
Decoupling Frederick's highway upgrades from I-270 stalemate
Senator Young's proposal has the virtue of decoupling improvements to Frederick's US15 from the stalemated I-270 much of which in its northern portion has 80k+ vehicles/day (AADT) on just 2x2 lanes and many hours of level of service F. But US15 runs even more traffic through Frederick on 2x2 lanes - over 90k/day for about 4 miles. (see table 2011AADT nearby).
Senator Young's first listed project the Monocacy Boulevard interchange of US15 is fully permitted and has been described for some years as Frederick County's highest priority transport project. The existing surface intersection is the scene of long daily queues of vehicles waiting for gaps in oncoming traffic and regular crashes, some severe. Located on a curve between the long established expressway segment in the city and a 2x2 lane divided rural arterial traffic engineers have long insisted it needs the ramps and overpass of an interchange - that signals won't work.
The proposal to upgrade US15 from a surface arterial to a full expressway from Frederick City's northern edge at Monocacy Blvd to the border of Pennsylvania is not needed to relieve any congestion (it's below 30k AADT.) But it is worth doing to improve safety, and make the drive less tense at intersections where the traffic is often sufficient to cause cross traffic to have to wait, then dart quickly over. And it would allow the posted speed limit to be raised. At the present 50mph most people drive at 65mph to 70mph but regularly get hit with 'speeding' tickets that they deeply resent.
Immediately you hit Pennsylvania on US15 northbound you have 24 miles of expressway standard roadway - full grade separation and access control - through the Gettysburg area and about half way to Harrisburg. Pennsylvania needs to upgrade that further 20 miles of US15, to the state capital but that's another story.
Safety justifies upgrade of rural US15
This 22 mile upgrade from north of Frederick City to the PA border proposed by Maryland senate bill 16 has not been the subject of any studies, planning or permitting (EIS) yet. But there shouldn't be much opposition to it. The surface intersection crashes and unsafe existing state of the road is widely known and publicized. There is a wide right of way and little need to encroach on any significant frontage properties.
The road as a 2x2 lane rural arterial already bypasses the two small settlements (towns, villages) along the way - Thurmont and Emmitsburg. Most of the people there would benefit by the upgrade. They'd support it.
No one is pushing a "transit alternative."
Texan engineers needed
It's mostly a matter of doing regular diamond interchanges for the existing 2 x 2 lane surface roadway.
The major issue would be how to provide with five or 6 interchanges the local accessibility presently provided by about 20 surface intersections. In places there are already short sections of frontage roads.
We need some Texas consultants up here to design bits of frontage roads and interchange U-turns.
As projects go it should be relatively simple to get public support and approvals. If the interchanges are $30m to $40m each it should be a $200m to $300m job.
The interchange at Monocacy Blvd on the north side of Frederick has been costed by MDOT at $70m. As a simple diamond that's an absurdly high $#. Officials at MDOT we've spoken to there agree it is on the high side, but say some of the expense is a park and ride to support car-bus transfers of commuters alongside the interchange plus an elaborate storm water management scheme.
It shouldn't cost more than $40m if they keep to basics.
Upgrade through Frederick City
The 3rd laning through Frederick City involves seven tight 1950s style interchanges in about 7 miles of US15 within the city boundaries.
The big interchange with I-70 is fine. 3rd laning won't require any significant modification to structures there.
One of the seven original US15/city interchanges (MD26) was improved a few years ago and has space for the extra lanes, and another (Motter Av) is being modernized now with space. That leaves five original 1950s style Frederick City interchanges to be modernized.
The 3rd laning could be done entirely in a 40ft grass median but without a full leftside shoulder each direction. In that case you'd just be widening old overbridges into the center and seven miles of central paving and a barrier.
It's never been costed officially but it seems to us to be a $200m to $300m job also.
4th auxiliary lanes
But there's a good case also for auxiliary lanes between the interchanges. The 1950s design merge and diverge lengths are way too short for modern driving and modern traffic. This is north to south 75k to 95k AADT.
Interchanges are from north to south center-point to center-point are spread: 3,500ft, 6300ft, 3700ft, 3800ft, 4000ft, 7700ft. The on and off ramps need the length provided by an auxiliary or continuous lane connecting on and off ramps.
And there's little rightside shoulder at present. It's a highway that hasn't been significantly changed sine it was built in the mid 1950s.
With rightside shoulder and auxiliary lane you're adding 20ft of pavement rightside. And if you want shoulder space through the interchanges you need an extra 10ft of bridge deck rightside. You might as well rebuild the bridges at the five city interchanges.
That could be a separate phase of the modernization through he city but it would probably be somewhat more expensive than the work in the center because of the retaining walls and sound walls needed - in the range $250m to $350m.
That figuring puts the whole US15 project at $700m to $1 billion.
ANALYSIS & COMMENT: A single toll point close to the border is wrong. It's unfair to have interstate travelers carry all the burden of improvements which mostly benefit people traveling US15 within Maryland and especially within Frederick City.
Traffic at the border is less than 20k AADT. That wouldn't generate the toll revenues needed for a big project extending over 22 miles of rural and seven miles of urban highway.
The toll point would have to be hard up against the Pennsylvania line to avoid hitting Emmitbsurg MD residents. There are 2 lane surface roads - MD140 Taneytown Pike/Taneytown Rd east and Waynesboro Pike west and MD194 - that would take diverted traffic if the toll's too high on US15 at the border.
Toll equipment is cheap relative to the construction costs of $700m to $1,000m so it will be fair and more productive of revenue to spread the charges proportionately to the benefits received at about a dozen points between I-70 and the PA border.
I'd have toll points not just at the border but at about five points between the interchanges along all the 22 rural miles that were upgraded.
And in Frederick City too you'd have toll points in each segment - about seven toll points.
There are two options:
(1) toll all the lanes at the seven city toll points or
(2) toll express lanes and free local lanes
The 7 mile Frederick City segment with two additional lanes going to 4 lanes each direction would be run as a pair of express toll managed lanes leftside basically for through-traffic and untolled local lanes rightside - one continuous general purpose and one auxiliary lane would be free.
You'd go from an existing 2/2 lanes configuration to a 2/2/2/2 lane configuration with Capital Beltway style bang-thru posts in a double striping separating the tolled from the free roadways.
For the whole 29 miles the toll points all along would spread the cost over all users of the improved roadway, instead of preying on one small subset of travelers at the MD-PA border as provided in the senate bill.
Young deserves applause nevertheless…
Even disagreeing with Senator Young about his border toll-only proposal he nevertheless deserves congratulation.
He is providing honorable leadership.
Unlike many of his colleagues he recognizes we need to move and to act locally to finance local highway improvements. Waiting on Annapolis and DC to give us money for necessary work is both wrong (Why should others pay for stuff that benefits us?) and futile (The money isn't there in Annapolis or DC to give us.)
The senator with his US15 toll plan has started a discussion about local financing of local highway needs - about local self-help instead of the being the pathetic mendicant always whining and asking others to pay.
That alone is cause for Christmas celebration.
PERSONAL NOTE: US15 here is my local expressway. I have the choice of three US15 interchanges within about a mile of where I live and type. I use it to go to a supermarket, to a hardware store, to buy pet food, to a plant nursery, and also of course to get to I-70 to Baltimore or "down the road" I-270 to DC. My neighbors are the same. They call it simply "Fifteen." 15 is our main road.
We should pay for improvements to this highway, as long as they are sensibly discussed and done properly.
HISTORY: The I-270/US15 corridor follows the first real road in these parts built in the 1810s as the franchised Georgetown-Gettysburg Turnpike.
late 1950s US15 designation moved from city street to new 'Frederick Freeway' MD340 to MD26
1960s bypasses of Thurmont and Emmitsburg
1970s, 1980s rural segment of US15 Frederick to PA line known early as Catoctin Mountain Highway doubled to 2x2 lanes north of Frederick
Sen Young's bill:
CREDIT: Liz Essley reporter for the Washington Examiner who broke the story: