Maryland and Virginia will collaborate on a project to replace the American Legion Bridge connecting the states, part of a larger project that would add express toll lanes to Interstates 270 and 495 from Frederick to the Potomac River, in a deal announced Tuesday.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced the deal along with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) at a transportation conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C., calling the agreement a “once-in-a generation achievement” for the region.

Hogan said he and Northam began discussing innovative solutions to the region’s traffic problems over the summer.

Maryland, which owns 79 percent of the bridge, will pay that percentage of replacing it, while the two states will split the costs of adding two express lanes in each direction and pedestrian and bike facilities, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said.

She said the scope of the project is still being determined, but Valentine placed the cost of the bridge project at about $1 billion.

The bridge carries I-495 over the Potomac River near Cabin John in Montgomery County to connect with the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia.

Tuesday’s announcement came at a forum on regional transportation hosted by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Greater Washington Partnership.

Partnership CEO Jason Miller and Board of Trade President and CEO Jack McDougle released a joint statement Tuesday praising the project.

Hogan and Northam’s announcement “is a momentous step towards improving the performance and reliability of our transportation system. The American Legion Bridge is the link between Fairfax and Montgomery counties, which host over 35 percent of the region’s jobs and households. It is a critical connection, yet it is well beyond capacity and the resulting traffic creates daily frustration and lost productivity for the region’s residents, workers, and employers,” the statement said.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said the project will be a public-private partnership, in which developers and private funding sources pay for the new lanes in exchange for a share of the revenue that the toll lanes generate.

That’s the same approach taken with a project to add express lanes to I-270 in two phases: from I-495 to I-370 near Gaithersburg, and from there to Interstate 70 in Frederick.

Plans to add similar lanes to I-495 have run into opposition in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties about whether homes would have to be demolished as part of the project, among other concerns.

Montgomery County Councilman Tom Hucker (D), who chairs the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, said in an email Tuesday that the project would help ease congestion at a perpetual bottleneck.

But he said Tuesday’s announcement doesn’t address other problems with the overall plan.

“Expanding the Beltway all the way through Montgomery County will mean taking homes and businesses and destroying environmentally fragile parkland. That approach is inconsistent with federal law,” Hucker said.

Instead, the state should focus on moving regional traffic off I-495 and make a major investment in its transit system, he said.

The phase of the I-270 project from Gaithersburg to Frederick is in the initial planning phases before federally mandated environmental studies begin.

State Highway Administration officials will hold workshops Wednesday night at Lincoln Elementary School in Frederick and Nov. 20 at the Urbana Fire Department Banquet Hall to discuss the project and talk about needs for the I-270 transportation corridor.

Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

State Highway Administrator Greg Slater said the bridge was important to the success of the overall project to relieve congestion on the highways, which all have to work as part of a system.

The top part of the I-270 project won’t work without improvements on the lower part, the bottom part won’t work without improvements to the bridge, and the bridge project won’t work without improvements to the Capital Beltway, Slater said.

Tuesday’s announcement drew criticism from the Columbia-based Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, which advocates for more public transit options rather than building more roads.

The group said the bridge project would add lanes that only wealthy drivers could afford to use. Opponents have raised similar concerns about the I-270 project.

“Middle-class drivers and transit riders will pay for ‘Lexus Lanes’ they can’t afford to use,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.

Rahn challenged the argument, saying that data from similar lanes in Virginia show that few people use the lanes all the time, but only when they need to get somewhere in a hurry.

And having those lanes available has been shown to free up space in the non-toll lanes that other drivers can use, he said.

Rahn said the two states hope to break ground on the bridge project in 2022 and will have a request for proposals that they can take to the Maryland’s Board of Public Works “soon.”

The new bridge will have a total of eight regular lanes, plus two tolled express lanes in either direction.

The new bridge will “in all likelihood” be built where the current bridge is, Rahn said.

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter:

@RMarshallFNP.

Ryan Marshall is the transportation and growth and development reporter for the News-Post. He can be reached at rmarshall@newspost.com.

(28) comments

timothygaydos

If they are willing to spend $1B for this new bridge project - why not keep the current bridge and continue with maintenance and go up to the Sugarland Run/Sterling Area and put a new bridge across the Potomac connecting it with the ICC? The ICC could be extended across to the river and right into Northern VA. Once on the VA side the bypass could extend down thru and connect with the Fairfax County Parkway or another offshoot of that highway or even run parallel to I-95 until you get to Fredericksburg area. At least that way, a major bypass around the Legion Bridge area would relieve the pressure off of NVA and MD for the local traffic congestion everyday... we have band aided this situation for years and we continue to even allow these express lanes "rip-off" schemes to factor into the complex problem solving that is needed... I am sure travelers coming from the north or the south would appreciate a quicker way around the DC Metro area without having to deal with the Legion or even the Wilson bridges.

shiftless88

It is simple; to do so would mean putting in a highway across land and housing that is owned by the wealthy. They will not allow it.

timothygaydos

Everybody has a price and some of the land has already been acquired just a matter of time when $$$ speaks...

shiftless88

But you are acting as if both MD and VA haven't wanted that for a long time. They have. It just has not proven possible.

timothygaydos

Nothing is in possible when it comes to highway construction in our country it is just their willingness to get it done.

shiftless88

Those wealthy folks have a lot of clout and really do not want it. I guess the politicians could force it; good luck with that.

gary4books

If their property values go up, they will welcome it.

shiftless88

These are big properties; their value is in their "rural-like" nature. Big houses, big lots, horse farms. They do not want an expressway buzzing through their neighborhoods.

gary4books

Good suggestion. Even closer to Dulles and closer to Frederick ould make sense.

Frayou

Virginia wants to extend Rt 28 by building a new bridge across Potomac, but Montgomery County & Annapolis politicians will not allow, using environment & historical factors.

Meanwhile traffic on Rt 15 from Point of Rocks continues to increase and crawl back & forth through Lucketts

shiftless88

VA does not care because by and large the people stuck on 15 are Marylanders

Riptide262

This is the obvious and correct answer. This means it will never happen.

The Grape of Wrath

One post below hits the bulls eye. For Lexus lanes to collect any $$, you have to intentionally create gridlock on the non-Lexus lanes by not providing a sufficient number of them. Since the Lexus lanes are run not by the government but by profit-seeking firms, a Lexus lane that does not collect revenue is a failure. Any plan that includes Lexus lanes is therefore a plan for continued congestion and gridlock from the beginning, by design. Either all lanes must be toll lanes like turnpikes so that everyone pays the same, or none of them must be.

mrnatural1

Excellent comment FCPS-Principal! [thumbup][thumbup]

On a related note, many "PPP" toll roads -- Lexus lanes or traditional toll roads -- have a "do not compete" clause that requires that the state NOT improve any nearby road that might be an alternative to the toll road!!

Lexus lanes are un-American. Our public roads have always been financed (primarily) with the motor fuel tax and open to all. At a time when income and wealth disparity is a huge concern they serve as a reminder that most of us are just peasants. We no longer live in a democracy. America is becoming an oligarchy -- and any construction of for-profit Lexus lanes managed by multi-national corporations only takes us further down that path.

What's next? Public schools divided up into "riff-raff" and tuition-supported classrooms? The only reason that hasn't already happened is that there are plenty of private schools for the wealthy to send their children to. Not so with those pesky public highways.

: "Why, it's downright uncivilized to be forced to drive my Mercedes S class next to a Kia or Ford F-150...While we're at it, we should build separate, paid public restrooms...In fact how about our own water fountains and restaurants? Segregation now, segregation forever!! The 1% and the 99% shall not mix! It is unnatural!"

The Grape of Wrath

Lexus Lanes are a no-go. You can see that on the Beltway in Va every day. They're nearly empty. And the tolls go up and up and up and up and up and up. You can see that on the Dulles road every 6 months. Maybe that's why no one uses the toll lanes unless they have to.

public-redux

Decades ago studies consistently found that about 10,000 more cars traveled from MD to VA than from VA to MD (or maybe it was the reverse) across the American Legion bridge every single day. To my knowledge, the anomaly was never explained. Traffic counts on other river crossings couldn’t account for the disparity.

seanjames

would that not just be because the easiest way into the city for a lot of people in that part of MD is the GW parkway? how many of those people are crossing into VA just to cross back into DC?

wran

Replace cars with drones that can fly over the highway bed. Assign drone users different altitudes over the road way. Problem solved.

public-redux

Alternatively, reduce the population.

LAR1

👍🏻 Children should be taxed, not be tax deductions. Most of our problems are related to over population. Humans are the predominant rodent and cockroach species on the earth.

mrnatural1

Spot-on LAR. [thumbup][thumbup]

mrnatural1

Bingo, public![thumbup]

Like most of our serious problems, excess traffic is caused by overpopulation.

One way to reduce traffic congestion in the short term -- while waiting for our population growth to slow, stop, and reverse -- is to encourage major public and private employers to local elsewhere. It's a big country. There are plenty of areas that *want* growth.

The D.C. area is way over capacity. If employers keep moving here, just building more lanes won't solve the problem. Wider roads attract more businesses and more residential development. It a vicious cycle. Before long the new/wider road will be a parking lot every day.

Also, something that is rarely if ever mentioned is that if these lanes are added the construction will last YEARS. During that time, traffic will be insane -- it will make people long for the "good old days" (now). Lane shifts; lane closures; reduced speed limits -- and let's not forget the happy-fun-time lane drops where the polite people battle the "me first!" crowd. Good times!

Commute times could easily double. Some people already have 1.5-2+ hour commutes, one-way! So they are already spending 2-4 hours on the road every day. It will be literally impossible for them to continue to work, because there simply aren't enough hours in a day.

Now would be a good time for people to collectively realize that growth is not always good, and infinite growth is literally impossible (darn science!). So let's stop now. Just stop. No more road construction. No Lexus/toll lanes. Fix what we have -- there's plenty of maint. and repair work to be done -- and encourage growth elsewhere.

seanjames

270 has essentially 5 lanes in each direction down in rockville, yet it's still congested. more lanes does not ease congestion. period. and if you think about it, it's not even supposed to. express toll lanes *depend* on there still being congestion -- otherwise why would anyone pay to use them? it's a racket

MrSniper

270 in Rockville is congested because there are more people. Frederick county is growing. It needs roads proportionate to its size.

The Grape of Wrath

Then we need to remove 2 lanes. Maybe FrCo needs roads proportionate to its importance rather than its size. In which case close 270 and use 355.

mrnatural1

That's right FCPS -- restrict the flow of blood to the malignant residential development tumor. [thumbup]

Although, out of fairness, I'd say I-270 should be left as-is -- well maintained, but not widened.

seanjames

when you widen roads, more people use them and congestion quickly goes back to what it was. this has been proven time and again. and if you widen them with toll lanes, it's even more of a waste of time and money because now you've just added space that most people won't use anyway. we should be investing in public transit that can be an alternative to 270

mrnatural1

Absolutely sean.

More and more people are beginning to realize that.

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