Frederick city and county leaders on Tuesday voiced concerns about a toll lane proposal for Interstate 270 and part of the Capital Beltway, including whether the proposal would benefit commuters equitably, its potential impact on the climate and whether it would meaningfully decongest commuter traffic along the corridor.
Leaders’ skepticism was part of a joint meeting of the Frederick County Council and city Board of Aldermen, which represented the first update from state transportation officials to city and county leaders in nearly two years -- and the first joint meeting between the council and the aldermen since the start of the pandemic.
The update, Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer said, was meant to bring leaders up to speed on the proposal, which would impact commuters traveling to and from the county.
The update also comes in the wake of a rollercoaster summer for Gov. Larry Hogan’s trademark transportation proposal, which leaders in the Washington region voted against, then reversed to support before the proposal finally received approval for its first contract, according to reporting from The Washington Post.
Hogan’s proposal would add toll lanes on both eastbound and westbound I-270. The area of the proposal most pertinent to commuters driving to and from the county falls along I-270, eventually winding into I-70.
The cost of using the lanes would fluctuate in price -- from as low as $0.20 per mile to upwards of $3.76 per mile -- and would be free to motorcycles and carpools with at least three passengers, transportation officials said during the meeting.
The lanes are designed for drivers to use a few times per month for “important trips,” like doctor’s appointments, important meetings or getting a child to daycare, transportation officials said.
County and city leaders, however, argued that the cost may prohibit some drivers from being able to take advantage of the lane to avoid traffic -- a view that has led to such lanes in neighboring states being referred to as "Lexus lanes."
State transportation officials acknowledged that the project would include both positive and negative environmental impact, but said complexity of the proposal makes it difficult to determine whether it would be a net benefit for the environment.
Councilman Kai Hagen (D) -- who as member of a regional transportation planning board voted to strike the project from a particular environmental study -- said he didn’t believe the proposal would combat climate change by simply decreasing the number of cars idling in traffic.
Discussion among county and city leaders on the proposal may resume in the coming weeks. Keegan-Ayer said at the end of Tuesday’s meeting she would discuss arranging another meeting to offer organizations opposed to the proposal a chance to convey their concerns to the council.