A plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 270 is back on track after a vote Wednesday by a regional transportation board that reversed a vote from last month.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Transportation Planning Board's vote added the plan back into the air quality conformance analysis for its Visualize 2045 long-range transportation plan.

The board's vote in June to remove the project that would add high-occupancy toll lanes to I-270 and I-495 from the American Legion Bridge between Maryland and Virginia to Frederick caused several jurisdictions from Maryland and Virginia to ask to revisit the matter at Wednesday's meeting.

The vote also led Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) to replace County Councilman Kai Hagen, who voted to remove the project, with herself as the county's representative on the board.

Gardner and Frederick Alderman Kelly Russell (D), the city's representative, both voted to add the project back into the conformance analysis.

If a significant project such as the toll lanes aren't included in the air quality analysis and long-range plan, the plan wouldn't meet federal requirements for final approval of the project's environmental review to move forward, according to a TPB release. The air quality analysis is expected to be finished by June 2022 -- before the board votes to finalize the long-range plan's update.

As the federally-designated planning organization for the Washington metropolitan region, the TPB is required to do analyses to make sure all significant regional projects collectively meet federal air quality standards.

The first phase of the project would go from the American Legion Bridge to Interstate 370 near Gaithersburg, while the second phase would stretch from I-370 to Interstate 70 in Frederick.

The amended resolution approved Wednesday included an agreement between the state Department of Transportation and Montgomery County to use money from the project to fund transit projects in the county.

At Wednesday's meeting, Gardner said her vote represents the majority of Frederick's County Council.

Gardner also asked Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater for a commitment to similar transit investments for the northern portion of the plan.

The northern section will have the same type of appropriate transit investment as the southern section, Slater said.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R), for whom the toll project has been a key priority during his tenure, called Wednesday's vote a victory for Marylanders who are stuck in “soul-crushing” traffic.

The vote was a “win against the small group of Montgomery County politicians and far-left activists who sought to derail a compromise requested by Montgomery County and already approved by the bipartisan Board of Public Works.”

The June vote had drawn a mix of reactions from local officials.

The anticipated loss of revenue from the tolls led MDOT to warn that a variety of projects would have to be eliminated or delayed if the project wasn't put back into the study.

Frederick Mayor Michael O'Connor urged the TPB to reinstate the project. He wrote, “The City of Frederick and Frederick County are attracting large employers that expect to draw workforce from the region and we anticipate traffic to increase bi-directionally, magnifying our need for improvements not only to our city's edge at Route 70, but through Frederick on Route 15, which is now at risk.”

Meanwhile, Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 8) sent a letter along with Maryland colleague Anthony Brown (D-Dist. 4) urging the board to stand by its June vote.

“Our constituents who stand to be most affected by the widening of I-495/I-270 have continuously raised concerns about the project's health and financial consequences,” the congressmen wrote. “They rightly note that the expansion project will add more cars to the highway, inflicting increased air-pollution on the surrounding communities at a time when we need to decrease emissions and bring down pollution levels.”

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.

(62) comments

threecents

Yah, I changed my mind. This is probably a good idea.

lewisantq

If one steps back and looks at this as a means for moving vehicles quickly, having two or three lanes often bumper to bumper, moving slowly and one or two additional lanes virtually empty of vehicles is incredibly inefficient. (This will be the reality as any commuter who has to travel on I66 or I95 in Northern Virginia, knows.) Roads are a basic responsibility of government and this is a product of our leaders being unable to raise funds for the needed infrastructure. The "no more tax" zealots are preventing adequate funding for this and many more of society's needs. Bob Lewis

petersamuel

Bob Lewis: yes certainly having the free lanes bumper to bumper and the express lanes virtually empty would be incredibly inefficient. It would also very unprofitable. The toll operator wants to maximize revenue by carrying as many vehicles in the their toll lanes as they can consistent with free flow. Highway engineers have been studying traffic flow and its breakdown into stop-&-go/creep-along (SAGCA) for at least 60 years. In round numbers they find that beyond 1800 vehicles per hour per lane (1800vph) drivers can't keep a comfortable distance from the vehicle ahead and they slow down. You get SAGCA, breakdown in traffic flow. As drivers slow you get backups. Throughput slumps from 1,800 to as low as 900vph. Traffic can be forced to stop, then start and move slowly, then short bursts of full speed before the breakdown in flow repeats... Average speeds drop from 60mph at 1800vph to averages of 30mph/900vph and less in SAGCA. This traffic overload is incredibly inefficient as well as damned annoying for those caught up in it. Just when the road should be supporting maximum flow its capacity is cut in half. You prevent SAGCA by limiting the number of vehicles entering the highway to 1800vph (30/minute) or less, say 1,500 to be sure. They first tried 'ramp meters' traffic signals (red stop lights) on the on-ramps of LA, NJ freeways timed to hold traffic back from the main line. Most were discontinued because ramps backed up often to the intersection below. Toll lanes limit entering traffic when they need by upping the price -- the toll shown on a variable message sign at a point just ahead of where motorists choose whether to take the toll or the free lanes. They get to know from experience motorists willingness to pay at various toll rates (price elasticity of demand in eco lingo). This 'dynamic pricing' allows them to keep the toll lanes pretty full at peak times while avoiding the dread SAGCA. And it is MORE efficient because they will be doing 1500vph/60mph in the toll lanes rather than SAGCA's 900vph/30mph.

TomWheatley

We started looking into some version of self driving cars in the early 90s at NIST. The hardware was still bulky so the first one was a HMMWV with a camera and radio that got picked up at the 3rd floor and then coaxial to the basement at the other end, did the image processing, and back for steering commands. Was able to follow the road strip at 50 mph. Later moved the gear to a van and used Great Seneca Highway before it opened up.

So what, you say? We also talked about caravaning (think NASCAR with the lawyer problems) where a human driver has a train of cars with cameras and sensors to determine a safe following distance based on what the driver is OK with given road conditions and the mass of each vehicle and safe braking distance. Very efficient and if the liability issues can be dealt with some 30 years later, not a bad way to move a lot of cars.

TomWheatley

We set up a 15 passenger vanpool to NBS/NIST back in 1987 and to my knowledge, it is still running today. And those who could read in a moving vehicle did their reading while others chatted, slept, or volunteered to be the driver. Not rocket science.

LeonardKeepers

this is just another ploy by the democrats to dictate how we live and travel,they want to dictate when we can travel and to where we travel

MD1756

What are you talking about?

threecents

Oh no. Leonard's on to us.

sevenstones1000

Carpool or take mass transit. Not that hard to avoid the tolls.

FrederickFan

Really? This project has been proposed by the Governor not the Democrats. Can't something be nonpartisan?

shiftless88

Leonard doesn't have all of his oars in the water, I think.

petersamuel

Wrong on both counts. It dictates nothing. It adds another mode (toll express lanes) as an option, leaving others in place. Second it is bipartisan -- of the 30 votes at the MWCOG/TPB my impression is about 20 were Dems, 10 GOPs. The project passed yesterday 20 to 10 so even if all the GOPs voted yes, there must have been 10 Dems. Toll express lanes have been implemented most in CA (Dem), TX (GOP) But the best correlation was not political but rate of population growth.

petersamuel

CORRECTION: I heard 20 to 10 announced listening to the zoom proceedings. Washington Post says the vote was 28 to 10 and they are probably more reliable than my hearing.

Greg F

Lemming…nobody wants this, especially dems. Go away troll.

MD1756

I can't understand politicians that promote population growth (aka tax base growth) and then when having to face the consequences of their positions (soul crushing traffic) only then do they worry about the environment. Wake up politicians. your policies in part help create this mess. As jurisdictions get more crowded, housing costs go up pushing more people to move further from their jobs to buy housing they want and can afford. The puts more traffic on the roads, not in mass transit. At that point the only way to improve the air quality is build more lanes to decrease travel times (and decrease the waste of fuel from engines running during stop and go traffic on a "highway"). Once a little traffic is relieved, politicians use that opportunity to promote their old growth policies again, continuing the cycle. At this point, more lanes should be built but it should be a public project only. When you get the private sector involved, in the long run it will cost more because the "private" part of the partnership is in it for a profit, not as a core function to provide service to taxpayers or to help the general economy, they want to help only their private "economy."

sej58

Thank goodness Jan took this over from one issue Kai who never consulted his colleagues on this issue.

shiftless88

Basically these are wealthy-people "get out of traffic" deals. The peons are still stuck getting their souls crushed.

petersamuel

shiftless88: disagree. The record of such express toll lanes is that they are used by a cross-section. People of modest means often need to be on time and so a guaranteed quick trip is of value to them, and they'll pay the toll gladly on those occasions. Wealthy people can afford to live closer to where they work or stay over in hotels and often congestion doesn't matter to them. Wealthy people get to choose where they work from and when they travel.

shiftless88

If you need to drive from Frederick to Germantown for your $15/hr job, you are not going to pay the $40 high-volume fare. Yes, the very wealthy do what they want, but here I am talking about upper middle class. The high-volume costs are incredibly high on 66 and 495 in Virginia.

tatt2ed

Yes, they are. Shift your schedule 1/2 hour (usually earlier) and the rate is significantly less. Yes, I do travel 66 and 495 often.

petersamuel

shiftles: Agree if it was $40 almost no one would use the toll lanes and the operator would quickly go broke. $4, $5, $6 is more typical.

shiftless88

tatted; if they could just shift their schedule so the traffic is low and the rates are then low, they wouldn't need to use this anyway. This is like private jets; for people who want to go when they want to go and they don't care about what it costs.

shiftless88

I have a friend who went in the Virginia corridor often and during heavy traffic times (which is the only time it is really useful) the tolls were $20-$40

petersamuel

shiftless: rather than rely on something a friend said, why not look it up. Here's how to get the toll rates:

the private operator on 495, 395 and 95: https://www.expresslanes.com

and VDOT on 66 inside the beltway: https://vai66tolls.com and

http://66expresslanes.org

NOTE most of the stories of $20, $30 tolls came from when they opened several years ago what had been a HOV2 to single occupant vehicles tolled without adding any lane. I think they have since fixed the system. It's all there on those sites.

shiftless88

There also are not the crowds there were then. And there is no guarantee that they will stay sane. My friend drove there often for work two years ago.

shiftless88

would they put a cap on the max? If not, why not?

petersamuel

Shiftless: I'm not sure what they plan by way of a toll max. I AM sure it's a bad idea. Because the toll lanes are selling customers a quick, reliable free flow trip. And if they are inhibited in the toll they can charge by a toll rate cap then there will be times when they can't deliver the free flow trip. Their systems constantly monitor traffic density to anticipate whether it is increasing to the point where motorists will start hitting their brakes and traffic flow will break down. They need to be able to raise toll rates however high is needed to keep their lanes from being overcrowded and bogged down. I think what they can do based on experience and assumptions is model the likely maximum tolls. But they would be foolish to let themselves be held to those by government rules.

frankwell

Six lanes to Frederick NOW!

Our politicians are just towing some line.

You know MD state has no interest in helping Frederick Co 270 commuters.

When it does reach Frederick they will stop it at a brand new intersection with Urbana!

(New Montgomery Co)

And half of us don’t live in MD

WVA,Va & Pa tags are abundant.

NewMarketParent

Toll lanes are the direct result of not wanting to pay taxes.

Why do we continue to paint ourselves into these corners? The simple solution would be to increase taxes and build out our infrastructure without a toll. You are simply shifting the burden of paying for the road to those who drive on it and not placing burden on those served by said road.

Just because you don't drive on it everyday doesn't mean you don't receive goods/services via that road (hence the word "served").

petersamuel

Newmarketparent; Tolls put the cost burden directly on the very people who benefit -- the users. The more you use, the more you benefit, the more you pay. The less you use, the less you benefit, the less you pay. Taxes? Gas tax is paid by drivers buying gas all over the state. Where's the fairness in drivers in Baltimore or PG County paying for a better 270 etc? People are right not to want to pay taxes for this. Tolls are fairer.

threecents

But in terms of total cost, convenience, simplicity, and pollution, I think it would be better to have a tax than tolls.

petersamuel

3c: Yes on simplicity. No on pollution -- lower emissions with at least two lanes each direction free flowing at all times. Yes the toll systems and toll lanes central interchange ramps add expense, but they also improve operations so I think net cost is a wash overall. But "a tax" to pay for it? What tax? I don't see any tax financing happening, whereas there are investors willing to finance the project with toll lanes.

tatt2ed

NMP... Correct, I don't want to pay 1 penny more in taxes as I already pay quite enough.

I will, however, use the 270 toll lanes just about anytime I need to head toward DC / NOVA during rush hours.

threecents

NMP[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

yogib

Just when you think the Democrats in Frederick Government are really starting to understand innovative ideas to create a more and environmentally sate I-270, they fold like an umbrella and show that "no ideas here" Wake up. At least Kai is thinking.

FrederickFan

That's all Kai does. Think. He had no answers. He has no solutions. He does absolutely nothing!

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of us have been stuck in I-270 traffic for DECADES. We need more lanes so we can drive or be driven by electric cars of the future! Thanks Jan!!

petersamuel

Kai Hagen is incoherent. He said this project is wrong because it was going to (1) worsen climate change -- ludicrous because free flowing cars emit less than stop & go traffic, beside which no single road affects the climate anyway -- and (2) because it doesn't meet 'equity' requirements (when user charges are the fairest way since those who benefit pay.) Granted, he is a bit of an actor. He manages to look and sound as though he's saying something quite profound while talking absolute bs.

threecents

I think Kai is correct; building more roads just encourages the status quo of relying on cars for transportation.

petersamuel

3c: The "status quo of relying on cars" is not going to be changed in a place like Frederick. Most households have cars. Most jobs are heavily dispersed. Stores are too far away to walk to. We don't have a dense downtown with activities centralized there to support a transit hub and spokes network. There is simply no practical alternative to cars for most of the trips most of us make every day. Building more roads where there is an obvious need is simple commonsense. Letting congestion get steadily worse by not building roads will not change the car-reliance status quo. It's sole effect will be to make our car trips more aggravating.

sevenstones1000

You don’t want to pay tolls? Carpool or take mass transportation. Stop whining. The days of your privileged single occupant vehicle costing all of us money are over.

NewMarketParent

@sevenstones1000

You make a good point, but we really don't have a good mass-transit system in place for those who work out of the county.

sevenstones1000

The commuter bus to Shady Grove is fine. I took it for years. Bring your laptop and work while you ride. Free parking. People make all kinds of excuses for why they are so special they have to drive alone. Fine - just be prepared to pay for your privilege. You’ve had 100 years of taxpayers building you roads. Now give back.

fnpreader123

Way to show off your privilege; I get carsick and can't read on buses or trains. Many people do. That's why I like personal choice, I drive myself so I don't throw-up everywhere. Win-win for everyone.

threecents

FNPreader. Same. Those commuter busses are awesome, but they take a long time, and I cannot read on them.

TomWheatley

Sorry that folks can't read on buses or trains due to motion sickness, but chances are rather high you are not reading while driving your single vehicle either. You can however listen to books on 'tape' with your headset without disturbing others or being a distracted driver. I would get motion sickness trying to read, but managed to handle being in a vanpool for almost 20 years before retiring.

DickD

We are going to Electric Vehicles and the study will look at CiE engines. It isn't Kai that doesn't know what he is doing.

Why should we pay tolls for roads built with our taxes. And how is the gas tax going to be recouped from EVs?

MD1756

Have a high gas tax and a lower kW tax.

mgoose806

Unlike Hagen, other Democrats realize that 25,000+ Frederick County Voters commute down 270 everyday. Including those, those that have had to sit in traffic over the past 50 years. What do you want to bet that Fitzwater is now a big supporter of this project?

Awteam2021

Mass transit. When will we get it? You can’t just build more roads without building more congestion. If you commute to the DC metro area you most get it. It’s time for mass transit.

petersamuel

Awteam: Mass transit? Well we have the MARC. No mass transit can be justified beyond that because you can't get any mass of users. No mass transit can match the dispersed origins and destinations of the trips people using 270 make. What can be justified is enhanced bus service, and vans and carpools, and they will be very well served by the 270 toll express lanes. So to the extent improved transit has potential this toll lanes project is the best hope. And it is exactly the proposed lanes with tolls -- tolls variable according to traffic density -- that can be built and managed to avoid congestion.

threecents

I understand there will still be non-toll lanes. Will there be as many non-toll lanes as there are now? I am repulsed by the idea of toll lanes, as they can cause confusion and slow traffic, they require workers to operate and maintain, and they probably increase pollution more than any other alternative. I understand that this by far the most clear path forward, but I am against it.

petersamuel

3c: The detailed format is only finalized to I-370. In that stretch each single HOV lane will be replaced by two HOT lanes (toll lanes which also allow HO vehicles for free) Apart from that, yes, Alt 9 which they chose shows the same number of non-toll lanes as now. The present divide between local and through traffic will be ended with all lanes becoming through lanes. Getting rid of the medians between local and through-lanes in Rockville will allow them to accommodate the extra toll lanes within the present right-of-way, so no adjacent property needs to be taken. The toll lanes won't slow traffic because there are no toll booths. Tolling is done via E-ZPass transponders at full highway speed. By varying the toll according to the density of traffic they can prevent stop & go conditions developing -- which reduces pollution as well as allowing them to offer a guaranteed free flowing ride in return for the toll. I agree there can be confusion especially when it opens and people aren't familiar with it. But they will work hard to get signage right, and will do a ton of marketing to explain the system. These kinds of toll lanes projects are now quite common -- about 50 of them around the country, and in this area we have three in N Virginia (495, 95, 395.) I'm sure there are occasional drivers who find themselves in toll lanes when they didn't intend, and the reverse of that. But generally they run pretty smoothly, especially for regulars.

threecents

PS, Thanks for correcting my misperceptions. You convinced me it might be a good idea after all.

TomWheatley

Curious what the cost would have been back in the mid-80s to continue the Red Line into Gaithersburg and north into that sea of survey markers that was to become the mini city called Germantown? Or was it also baked into the plans to build a billion dollar I-370 as the beginnings of the coveted ICC?

petersamuel

Kudos to Jan Gardner and Kelly Russell for their commonsense support for this urgent project. Shame on Kai Hagen for voting against the interest of his constituents who have a strong need for extra lanes on 270 and the Beltway connection to DC and northern Virginia. By adding toll lanes the project ensures there is no call on taxpayers. Those who use the new lanes will pay for them in tolls as they use them. By varying the tolls the operators will be able to optimize traffic density in those lanes avoiding it getting to the point where traffic slows -- guaranteeing a fast reliable trip in return for the toll. For those who choose not to pay for the fast ride in the toll lanes, the existing free lanes remain. Although they will benefit too, by losing some of their vehicles to the toll lanes.

The project is also good for transit and HOV -- buses and carpools running in the toll lanes will be able to get to Shady Grove in 30 minutes and to Tysons in 45 minutes, just like the tollpayers.

Reps Raskin and Brown are dead wrong. The problem is not, as they suggest, the future possibility, that some more vehicles might be attracted to the highway if it is improved. The problem is here and now. It is the highway's inability to handle the existing traffic, especially on the northern 2x2 lane stretch from Clarksburg. That's because the 2x2 lanes was built for traffic of 50 years ago. It has long since been unable to accommodate the drivers using it day in and day out. Contrary to Raskin and Brown improvements to the highway will reduce pollution since free flowing traffic emits less than stop-&-go. Having a perpetually congested artery to the jobs and services to our south is what produces damage to the health and finances of our people. Widening the highway will improve people's financial prospects by providing better access to jobs and services, and by reducing time wasted in traffic. How can our congressional representatives get it so upside down.

tatt2ed

peter... my only issue with this is that the lanes appear to be HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes, not simply toll lanes for people to use at their discretion. I hope the lanes will eventually be open to anyone willing to pay the toll, and yes, I will.

Cowell

Move Raskin and Brown into Frederick for one year and commute to DC 5x per week. Their souls would be crushed as Hogan's states. DC politicians have no clue how ordinary folks live and are the problem.

mgoose806

Hagen and Fitzwater don't have a clue either. Remember that next time you are sitting on 270.

petersamuel

tatt2ed: they will be open to anyone willing to pay the toll. HOT lanes is High Occupancy & Toll and means that as well as accommodating tollpaying vehicles it allows HOs (buses, carpools) which go free. The present lanes on 270 are HOV lanes which means High Occupancy Vehicles (carpools, buses) only. The proposed project would be like the toll lanes in N Virginia. Also known as HOT lanes or Express lanes.

tatt2ed

peter... thank you for the explanation. And yes, I will be using them...

MD1756

In MD, plug-in vehicles (electric and plug-in hybrids, but not just regular hybrids) can also use HOV lanes (at least through Sept. 30, 2022) regardless of the number of passengers.

tatt2ed

MD1756... motorcycles as well.

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