State Surveying E-ZPass Holders on Express Toll Lanes

It’s June 17, 2024, and you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Capital Beltway or Interstate 270.

On the other side of the concrete median, free-flowing express toll lanes are beckoning.

How much money would you be willing to pony up — and how much time would the toll lanes have to shave off your commute — before you decide to ditch the slow-poke lanes?

Those questions are at the heart of a survey that a research firm is conducting on behalf of the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Resource Systems Group, a Vermont-based consulting and analytics firm, is polling a sampling of EZPass transponder holders in Maryland and Virginia, to gauge drivers’ willingness to use toll lanes of the sort that Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) wants to build on the two roads.

Parts of the Beltway in Virginia already have such lanes. Hogan wants to have private sector firms finance, build and maintain express toll lanes in Maryland.

“The purpose of the Stated Preference Survey is to develop estimates of a traveler’s value of time and propensity of travelers to use the proposed managed lanes on I-495 and/or I-270,” Lisa Choplin, I-495 and I-270 P3 program director, said in response to questions emailed by Maryland Matters.

“Stated preference surveys are an important part of investment-grade traffic and revenue studies that estimate motorists’ values of time, for different traveler market segments. The surveys provide an important analytical tool, and are needed to secure financing from federal loan programs, such as the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).”

The meat of the survey offers motorists a series of hypotheticals. After asking the respondent to recall the last time he or she took a trip of more than 15 minutes duration on the Beltway or 270 (and whether there was heavy traffic during that trip), RSG then probes how the person would handle hypothetical future commutes in a world where express toll lanes are an option.

“Below are 2 different travel options for making the work-related business trip you have just described,” the survey says.

“If the options below were the only options available for your trip, which would you most prefer:

Use the Regular Lanes on I-495

Travel Time: 27 minutes

Toll Cost: No Toll

[or]

Use the Express Lanes on I-495

Travel Time: 13 minutes

Toll Cost: $4.00.”

Respondents can then select the option they prefer.

Follow-up questions are similar in format but have slightly different travel time and toll options.

A trip of 28 minutes with no toll versus a 15-minute trip with a $5 toll.

A trip of 28 minutes with no toll versus a 19-minute trip with a $2 toll.

A 22-minute free trip versus a 17-minute trip with a $6 toll.

And so on.

There is language suggesting that different respondents were offered different choices.

The survey also seeks insight into when motorists would be “most likely” to use express toll lanes. Among the available options: “when it’s rush hour,” “when I’m worried about arriving somewhere.. on time,” “when the regular lanes are congested,” “when I’m running late,” etc.

And respondents are asked for their feelings about the Hogan administration’s proposal to add express lanes on the two roads. Options range from “strongly favor” to “strongly opposed.”

Not all motorists who have EZPass transponders received an invitation to participate in the survey.

“We used a random selection of Maryland E-ZPass and Virginia E-ZPass customers in different ZIP codes within the study area,” Choplin said in response to a question.

Tony Hausner, a longtime Silver Spring resident who is active with the group Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, faulted the survey for not focusing on other methods the state might utilize to help people shorten their commutes.

“It only asks about highway solutions,” he said. “It’s not asking about increased transit opportunities — carpool lanes, express bus, [bus rapid transit], increased MARC service from Frederick, reversible lanes.

“Those are options that I think are worth exploring as well.”

Choplin defended the state’s methodology. “This is not a public opinion survey.

“Even though the beginning slides of the public facing survey seem more general, the purpose of the survey is to obtain specific data to support analysis for a key input — value of time — for the traffic and revenue study.”

The survey will close on July 12, assuming that a minimum of 2,000 completed questionnaires have been submitted. Choplin said the state wants at least 500 from each of the four study areas: I-495 from the American Legion Bridge to I-95, I-495 from U.S. 50 to MD 5, I-495 from I-95 to U.S. 50 and I-270 from I-495 to I-370.

[email protected]

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks or this article. Another limitation is the survey only asks for responses from EZ pass users and not the entire population.

  2. The questions may be designed to match MDOT’s initial conception of which stretches should be “bundled” as phases, but that doesn’t match data they already have on where traffic flows go. Adding MARC would not be just “public opinion” as MDSHA dismisses it. Adding frequent all-day 2-way train would assess travelers’ implicit value of using their travel time productively.

  3. What a shame that Hogan is pushing roads for those with money and for those without. This is the wrong direction for the US to be going. It would have been much better if roads remained public. HOV lanes and non-polluting car lanes would have been a better approach. In the long run, allowing private profit for roads is going to cost the state and our citizens more money. This approach is a terrible mistake. And the survey avoids asking that basic question about public vs. private roads.

  4. I certainly oppose toll roads. If you travel on the beltway where the express toll roads are, it has not alleviated traffic at all. There is just as much congestion as ever. We need more trains and/or bus service, we need our roads repaired.
    We already have the MARC coming from Frederick. There needs to be some connection between the MARC and the Metro so passengers can transfer easily between these systems.

  5. This survey is useless because drivers are never given specifics about time differential (including merge back into traffic). My rule is generally $2 a minute but I have to rely on Waze to tell me.

  6. The problem with the no highway expansion hysterical group, who always state “more mass
    Transit” is that mass transit is simply not practical, pragmatic or useful in a suburban and exurban distributed metro area. One cannot design a transit system that efficiently transports people across a distributed non central biz district area – please use common sense folks!!

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