The state’s Board of Public Works approved a proposal this week that allows state officials to solicit private companies to build and operate toll lanes on Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway.
Traffic on I-270 was a major issue among Frederick County voters during last fall’s election season. At Wednesday’s hearing, some key changes were approved: moving the I-270 expansion up to the first phase of the project versus the Beltway component, adding a study for a monorail system that would link Frederick to the Metro’s Red Line and allowing commuter buses to use the toll lanes free of charge.
Here are some abbreviated comments from local elected officials.
County Executive Jan Gardner (D)
Gardner said she was still reviewing the amendments the Board of Public Works made Wednesday, but she was surprised to see I-270 move up to Phase 1, given financial and logistical reasons.
She said she understands there are environmental concerns and worry over affordability of the toll lanes, but the solution needs to include transit along with more lanes.
“We can’t do one thing without the other. We need to do the transit piece, too,” Gardner said. “What’s appealing about the monorail is it doesn’t need right of way, and it could be very efficient in terms of operating, and it could be built quickly.”
County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D)
Keegan-Ayer said she was still reviewing the tweaks and amendments, but added multiple times that it’s “encouraging” that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is looking into mass transit options like the monorail and commuter bus options.
She still has many questions: How much are the lanes going to cost? How much will tolls be? What private groups are interested in pursuing the project?
“It’s encouraging because the governor is open to engaging in a dialogue in other types of transportation, not just motor vehicles,” Keegan-Ayer said.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R)
Blue also believes the toll lanes are part of the solution, but not the only solution.
Mass transit, like the monorail, would probably need private investment, he said. In any fix, there needs to be a mass transit component.
“[Interstate] 270 has needed upgrading for 20, maybe 30, 40 years and it’s true to say it needs to have some relief,” Blue said. “I just don’t see that as being the only solution, it’s definitely part of the solution and factoring in other ways to use more mass transit.”
Councilman Jerry Donald (D)
Donald declined to comment on the proposal. He noted that the council will hold a workshop on the topic in the near future.
Councilman Steve M c Kay (R)
McKay said he was concerned about the dynamic of toll lanes, and whether they would be costly to commuters, like those along Interstate 66 in Virginia.
He supports mass transit options and understands the need for additional lanes for immediate relief, but is concerned that more lanes eventually will lead to the same traffic issues after a few years. McKay dealt with that in the 1990s when he commuted south on I-270 out of Montgomery Village.
“When you add that lane, it’s going to encourage more development along the road which will add more traffic,” McKay said. “There’s no magic solution. You got to do it but people have to expect it’s going to get filled in.”
Jessica Fitzwater (D)
Did not respond to a phone call for comment.
Kai Hagen (D)
Hagen, who testified at the Board of Public Works on Wednesday, is against the proposal, but supportive of the mass transit amendments.
He noted the impact the proposal will have on climate change, but also said the state needs to look at many solutions: the monorail, commuter buses using the toll lanes free of charge, getting more autonomous vehicles on the road to finding ways to reduce overall vehicle use.
“Big problems are often not solved with a big, silver bullet solution,” Hagen said. “We’re going with the big silver bullet approach here, and part of the problem is it’s not going to accomplish what it’s supposed to accomplish.”
Councilman Phil Dacey (R)
Of all the County Council members, Dacey appeared to be most supportive of the proposal.
He understands the need for mass transit to be part of the solution. But there are immediate traffic needs, and Hogan’s plan helps address them right away, he said. If the vote had failed, it could have meant 15 or 20 more years before another solution was on the table, he said.
“I’m actually pretty ecstatic about the board passing it and recognizing we need some traffic relief,” Dacey said. “I think it’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of this project for Frederick County.”