An ambitious plan to build toll lanes along Interstates 270 and 495 is expected to be the dominant transportation issue in the upcoming General Assembly session.
“That’s really the big one,” said Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll), of the project that has drawn both support from residents and officials concerned with traffic and congestion on the busy highways, and opposition from those concerned about the impact it would have the environment and on communities in parts of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
The plan proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) would add toll lanes on I-270 and I-495 as part of a public-private partnership, in which developers and private funding would pay for the project in exchange for a share of the revenue that the toll lanes generate.
Hough said he believes the project may be in significant danger this session, as a variety of forces align against it.
Hogan canceled a Board of Public Works meeting scheduled for this past Wednesday after Comptroller Peter Franchot announced concerns about the project.
Two bills from last session that could impact the P3 project are expected to resurface this year.
One would prohibit the Maryland Transportation Authority or any other state agency from building a toll road, highway, or bridge without the consent of a majority of the counties that would be affected by the project.
The other would prohibit the Board of Public Works from approving P3 agreements until environmental impact statements are done, and require a survey of the credit rating of the private companies being considered fro the project, the impact of a proposed agreement on the credit rating of the state and any local government, and a recommendation of the minimum credit rating that the private partner and a private funding source would have to maintain, among other provisions.
The P3 project “will probably have a lot of visibility” during the session, agreed Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll).
He said he looks forward to working with his colleagues in the Frederick and Montgomery delegations on the issue.
Traffic congestion is a growing problem in Frederick County, getting worse as the county grows, Pippy said.
“It impacts people’s quality of life,” he said.
Pippy also said he thinks the Frederick delegation is unanimous in finding ways to address the issue of U.S. 15 through the city of Frederick, an issue that’s been identified by the county as its main transportation priority.
Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick), the vice chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Transportation and the Environment Subcommittee, said she’d like to see proposals to expand I-270 balanced with efforts to improve transit, such as commuter bus and ways to enhance MARC service.
Commuter buses would get the advantage of additional lanes on I-270 if the P3 project is built.
Democratic legislators see the P3 project more skeptically, echoing some of the concerns from Montgomery County about environmental risks and the taking of property for the project.
Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-Frederick) said she thinks legitimate questions have been raised about the real costs of the project and how it will be paid for.
Lewis Young believes that expanding roads leads to more traffic.
“We really need to start looking at things more holistically,” she said.
Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick) said he expects to see lots of bills regarding transportation issues filed this session, including some to promote transit.
The state needs to maintain its roads, but it also needs to understand that you can’t build your way out of the congestion problem, Young said.
They need to look at transit, as well as bikeable and walkable communities, he said.
“We’ve got to think beyond just building a road,” he said.