DALLAS — Maryland Transportation Authority adopted a fee schedule that will generate less than $10 million a year in toll revenue on a $1.1 billion Interstate 95 highway improvement project.
The toll schedule, which varies by size of vehicle, time of day and the direction of travel, was adopted unanimously Thursday by the MdTA board.
The tolls were set at the low end of the range of proposed options approved by the board in September, based on a consultant's study that said high tolls would lower revenues by driving away traffic.
Motorists using express toll lanes on the segment of I-95, also known as the JFK Memorial Highway, will pay $1.75 during peak rush hours to travel the segment that begins at the northern access points for two tunnels under Baltimore Harbor.
Electronic collection of the tolls on the new lanes is expected to cost up to $3 million a year.
Drivers will pay 25 cents per mile during peak hours, but as little as 10 cents a mile during low-traffic night hours.
The top option was for a rush-hour toll of 35 cents per mile for a passenger vehicle and 30 cents a miles at other times.
MdTA executive secretary Bruce Gartner said the express lanes, which will open in late 2014, are part of the comprehensive project to improve safety and traffic flow on I-95 between Baltimore and Washington.
Expectations of low traffic counts in the first years for the new lanes means the debt issued by MdTA for the I-95 express lanes will be supported by tolls on the more heavily traveled facilities it operates such as the Nice Bridge over the Potomac and the Fort McHenry Tunnel.
"The I-95 express toll lanes will help reduce congestion and will provide a choice to motorists who desire a more reliable travel time," he said in announcing the fee schedule. "Motorists who choose not to use the express lanes will still benefit as the new lanes will remove vehicles from the I-95 general purpose lanes."
The per-mile fee adopted for the I-95 express lanes are identical to those on MdTA's $2.4 billion, 19-mile Intercounty Connector built to relieve congestion in the Washington area.
MdTA issued debt for the two-year old Intercounty Connector supported by revenues from the other tolled facilities due to revised, lower traffic volume projections. Funding for the project included a combination of toll revenue bonds, $265 million from the state's general fund, and $180 million from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund.
Traffic projections for the seven miles of two tolled lanes in each direction on I-95 called for 240,000 vehicles a day by 2020 when the project was proposed in 2003. The latest estimates are for 186,000 trips daily by then.
That projection assumes a 1% annual growth in traffic, but volumes on the existing segment of free lanes have been flat since 2006. Current traffic is about 160,000 vehicles a day.
When construction on the express toll lanes began in January 2006, MdTA estimated the project would be completed by 2011. The $830 million projected cost would be supported by toll revenues, officials said at that time.
The toll lanes are in addition to the four existing open lanes.
MdTA's $2.3 billion of outstanding debt is supported by net revenues on its eight transportation facilities, including I-95, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. Its credit is rated AA-minus by Standard & Poor's, AA by Fitch, and Aa3 by Moody's Investors Service.
The authority's outstanding debt is capped at $3 billion by state law.
A capital improvement program estimated at $2.26 billion through 2018 will be funded with $1.9 billion from MdTA's capital fund, and $350 million from new transportation facility revenue debt and federal loans.