DG Highway sign with 270 and 495 logos 1

A highway sign on southbound Interstate 270 before the Interstate 495 split at Montrose Road in Rockville.

The initial study of the Frederick County portion of a project that would add toll lanes to Interstate 270 is expected to begin later this month, but a bill that could affect the project awaits a vote in the General Assembly.

The work will involve preliminary planning for the environmental study of the project stretching from Interstate 370 near Gaithersburg to Interstate 70 in Frederick. A study for 48 miles of I-270 and Interstate 495 is currently being done.

The studies are part of planning for a project that would add toll lanes to I-270 and I-495 in an effort to reduce congestion on highways in the region, which would be funded through a public-private partnership agreement, also known as a P3.

The Frederick County Chamber of Commerce received an update on plans for the project Wednesday.

Congestion on roads such as I-270 affects the county’s ability to attract businesses and its economic development, chamber President and CEO Rick Weldon said at the event.

The work would cover about 70 miles of highway in the I-270 and I-495 corridor, Lisa Choplin of the State Highway Administration told the chamber audience.

Once completed, the project will remove a traffic bottleneck at the American Legion Memorial Bridge in Montgomery County, she said.

The project would also add capacity along I-270 in Frederick County, although critics of the plan have argued that adding more lanes will only encourage more people to drive.

Congestion on Maryland highways in the National Capital Region costs the economy about $1.3 billion a year in traffic delays, and travel times are expected to increase by 70 percent by 2040, she said.

Improving the situation will require a balanced approach with the new toll lanes as well as improvements to transit, Choplin said.

With new toll lanes, travelers can pay the tolls in order to use the new lanes, which will free up space on the non-toll lanes, she said.

The toll lanes would be run by private companies, and tolls will be adjusted in order to allow traffic to maintain constant speeds. But the state would still own the road.

The entire scope of the project is expected to cost between $9 billion and $11 billion to construct.

The draft environmental impact statement for the segment of the project up to I-370 is expected by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, a Montgomery County delegate is hoping that his bill to add more oversight to the process of developing public-private partnership deals will get a chance for a vote before the General Assembly’s session ends on Monday.

Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery) represents a district that stretches from the Washington, D.C., line to Wheaton and Rockville, and is basically “cut in half” by the Beltway.

Solomon said Friday that he doesn’t think adding lanes to the Beltway is the right solution, although he said it might be a better idea for parts of I-270, especially the parts north of Clarksburg, where the number of lanes drops to two.

Solomon’s bill would prohibit the state’s Board of Public Works from approving P3 agreements until environmental impact statements are done.

What if you start the process for a project using one plan or approach, and then the impact statement says you’ll have to use another approach, he asked.

The bill would also require a survey of the credit for the private company being considered for 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.

Frederick County Councilman Kai Hagen (D) attended an event Wednesday in support of the bill.

With the massive amounts of money that the projects can cost and their long-term implications, projects need accountability for both economic and environmental issues, Hagen said Friday.

Every project should be fully examined for its potential impacts on climate change, he said.

Hagen believes Solomon’s bill would add some needed accountability for P3 projects.

But with the legislative session quickly coming to a close, Solomon is still hoping that his bill, which was passed in the House of Delegates in March, will get a vote in the state Senate.

With voting sessions scheduled for Saturday and Monday, Solomon and the bill’s co-sponsors are still “trying our darndest” to get the bill to the floor, he said Friday.

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.

(31) comments

mrnatural1

We're basically on the same page, especially when it comes to people having more than one child each (2 per couple). I agree that it is wrong for people to expect others to pay them to have more than 2. As you said, children are a 'want', not a 'need'. People can and do live without reproducing. Of course, once the babies are born, we must obviously pay for their care if absolutely necessary. No, that's not fair -- people should not have kids they cannot afford to raise -- but we have no choice. It's not the infants' fault that they have grossly irresponsible, selfish parents.

As a society, we have an obligation to care for our fellow citizens, and provide basic needs: food; clothing; shelter; health care; education; and transportation. Of course, "food" does not = caviar and filet Mignon; "shelter" does not = a McMansion in a golf course development; and transportation does not = a Porsche 911. When it comes to education however, even though we decided not to have kids (I'll take my credits now!) my wife and I do not mind paying for our public schools. #1, it really is a 'need', and #2, having a reasonably well educated citizenry benefits all of us. As the saying goes, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance".

Thank you for listing more user fees. I was drawing a blank there. You asked, "...why compare [them] to income at all?" Because "fees" are just a tax by another name. When it comes to our income tax system, we do not declare that everyone from the folks working in retail and fast food, to Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, pay the same $ amount. That would be preposterous and outrageously unjust, not to mention unworkable. The fair way to distribute (almost) any cost is by using a progressive system (like our income tax). Poor people pay a small percentage (or 0%) and people pay an increasing percentage as their income bracket increases.

Why should tolls, fees, and fines be assessed any differently from income taxes? In fact, some countries do tie fines to income -- so the 'bite' is the same for everyone. Instead of a fixed amount, a fine might be a day's pay. That's only fair. When tolls, fees, and fines are fixed the wealthy are not paying their fair share (and there is little deterrent effect), and working class and lower middle class people are paying too much. Even a "flat tax" (a fixed % of income) would be more equitable than a fixed $ amount.

Above, I said, "The fair way to distribute (*almost*) any cost is by using a progressive system (like our income tax)." There are cases where the gov't service/product is not a necessity -- or, it may be a necessity at a basic level but not when use is excessive (like your water and electricity examples). I like your 'hybrid approach for funding'. That's essentially what we've done historically with our highway system. In the past, the fuel tax receipts paid for the majority of the expenses (maybe 70-75%?) and general revenue covered the rest. People disagree over what the specific percentages should be, but I think most would agree with your hybrid approach.

I also agree that minimizing water and electric usage should be encouraged. Increasing rates above a certain realistic/reasonable usage makes sense. Once again though, the idea that everyone should pay the same amount for necessities like water, sewer, and electric is unfair. It would not be unreasonable to give low income people a break, if they stay within the reasonable usage limits.

An alternative would be a modest universal basic income (UBI) to help with some of the fixed fees and utility costs. That might be easier than trying to determine which people/families get a break on their water and electric bills.

One thing that does not work is applying free market economics to things like public schools; public roads; and public transportation. That's the argument many pro-Lexus Lane people use. "Well, it's simple supply and demand! We only have so many lanes, so if we charge outrageous tolls that only the wealthy can afford, the riff-raff will just go away. They will walk, ride a bike, take another road, or drive at another time. Simple!" I even had one guy tell me that Lexus Lanes are like cans of beans or bottles of soda -- if one is cheaper than another, demand for it will increase -- and vice versa. Of course the glaring problem with that analogy is that it is completely false. Buying another brand of beans is not at all comparable to either a) not driving at all, b) taking a different route, c) going to work at a different time.

The fact is, the vast majority of people on I-270 and/or the Beltway during rush hour *MUST* be there. They have no choice. They aren't going for a joy ride. They live and work at fixed locations. They work set days and hours. They are in effect a captive audience. As traffic continues to get worse every year, the Lexus Lane operator simply jacks up the tolls to force "excess" vehicles out. That cannot be justified. Not in America. Our roads, schools, parks, and libraries are there for everyone too use, regardless of income.

The bottom line is that we have too many people in general, and here in the D.C. area. The best plan is to discourage any further growth. Encourage major employers to locate elsewhere, in areas that want more growth.

MD1756

Natural, I don't mind paying taxes for education. I absolutely object to paying more for not having children and I'm not really arguing for reduced taxes (although that would be nice) but I place a much higher priority on the environment (as evidenced by my own actions and career I had).
You wrote "...An alternative would be a modest universal basic income (UBI) to help with some of the fixed fees and utility costs. That might be easier than trying to determine which people/families get a break on their water and electric bills..." Rather than wasting my tax money on helping pay utility bills for those who may not be able to afford it, I'd rather have tax incentives for solar and geothermal be installed in low income housing to essentially eliminate the greatest portion of their utility costs. The low income people benefit (whether they rent or own), property owners or landlords benefit, and the general public benefits (reduced pollution).
I agree free market applications don't work in all cases but neither does handing out free lunches, health care, etc. And while I support helping those in need, I support it without hesitation for those who are in situations through no fault of their own. The more their ill advised behavior resulted in their current situation, the less willing I am to help. Let's face it, if you think about it, if someone thinks they can't afford solar or geothermal, they certainly then can't afford children.
I don't believe in public/private partnership for roads since the profits don't go to infrastructure, maybe more should be done to encourage people to live closer to work. How many people cross the 495 bridges each day not because of the cost differential in MD vs VA vs DC but because of preference? Build more lanes/roads but only if there is a real plan for reducing growth in the future (which must include the population growth portion of the equation). One could argue that over crowded roads act as in disincentive for further growth except that we all know more roads will eventually be built to accommodate the population growth.

mrnatural1

As someone who also does not have children (by choice) I absolutely agree that it is not right for the gov't to force citizens without children to pay more taxes to cover the deductions/credits/exemptions given to those with children. I would add breaks on health insurance premiums to that -- employer subsidized plans in which childless couples pay the same as couples with 6/8/10 kids. That's grossly unfair.

I would make an exception for low income parents. No, they should not have had kids that they could not afford to raise, but that's not the children's fault.

On a related note, I don't know anyone -- liberal or conservative -- who likes the idea of 'handing out free lunches, health care, etc.' The problem is, the alternative -- people living in cardboard boxes under bridges and begging in the streets -- is worse. Homelessness; drugs; prostitution; disease; possible epidemics; ER's even more overcrowded than they currently are; harassment of motorists and pedestrians; increased assaults, etc, etc -- all result from a lack of social services.

Another looming issue is massive unemployment due to increasing automation and continuing immigration (both legal and illegal). There will be millions of people who -- thru no fault of their own -- cannot find work.

We really have no choice but to provide our fellow Americans with the basic necessities of life -- whether we feel they deserve it or not.

My sense of it is that many/most people would prefer to live closer to where they work, but due to the "problem that shall not be mentioned" (too many people in one place, and on the planet) it is too expensive. When many major employers are located in a relatively small geographical area, supply and demand creates a situation where residential property that is close-by becomes incredibly expensive. People have no choice but to move further and further away.

I used to support widening area roads like I-270, until I became aware that doing so is a temporary fix at best. There are hundreds of examples all across the country of roads that have been widened, only to become linear parking lots again within a few short years. Eventually the right-of-way is used up and no more widening is possible -- the locals are just stuck with a traffic nightmare.

I would tentatively agree with you that we should, "build more lanes/roads but only if there is a real plan for reducing growth in the future..." I say tentatively because I would be skeptical of any such plan. Experience has shown that if roads have "excess capacity" (i.e., not totally gridlocked) developers will find a way to build more ugly boxes.

My preference is to leave the roads as they are and starve the malignant residential growth tumor.


MrSniper

Traffic becomes congested by 2:00 where 270 shrinks from 3 to 2 lanes. At a minimum, that should be remedied by increasing to at least 3 lanes all the way into Frederick. Really though, it should be at least 4 lanes all way. No Lexus lanes for the rich!

elymus43

All widening Rt270 would do is bring more people to Frederick county to live (i.e. more new homes). The road should be a TOLL ROAD.........................................

mrnatural1

elymus43:

Slapping big fat tolls on all lanes of I-270 does have a certain appeal, I'll give you that. It would definitely put a huge damper on any further residential sprawl, which would not hurt my feelings one bit. [beam]

However, as much as I despise the wholesale destruction of FredCo, I hate tolls even more. In short, the ends do not justify the means.

Our roads should be paid for with fuel taxes, and otherwise be 'free' for all Americans to use -- all lanes, at all hours, 24/7/365.

There are other ways to combat the malignant tumor of development -- like forcing it to truly pay for itself. ALL expenses. For example the proposed work on I-270 and US 15 would no even be considered if it weren't for all of the development in the last 25-30 years.

My understanding is that typically, if a developer pays for any road improvements at all, they are limited to maybe a turn lane and/or a light at an intersection -- as if all of the cars coming from that development just disappear after they get 200' down the road! In reality of course, almost all of the additional residents drive, and they add to the traffic on already overburdened local roads, highways, and Interstates.

I suspect that if developers had to pay ALL of the costs associated with their clusters of ugly boxes the demand for housing in FredCo would shrivel up and die because those costs would be passed on to potential buyers.

Don't feel bad for the developers though. It's a big country -- they will find someplace else to destroy. At least until we get population growth under control.

oldmagpie11

Weldon says new businesses will set up shop in Frederick if 270 is widened to the south. [huh]

sevenstones1000

Building light rail up from DC to Frederick would bring a lot of tourists and day trippers.

sevenstones1000

There is both train and bus service during the week from Frederick to Rockville and Shady Grove. Use it and avoid any tolls at all. With luck, buses will get a dedicated lane and speed last all the single occupant cars clogging the road.

DickD

Better than toll lanes, get some good paying jobs in Frederick County.

oldmagpie11

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Reader1954

make that a 3rd bridge

Reader1954

3 lanes into Frederick and a 2nd bridge across the Potomac

FCPS-Principal

I say NO TOLLS. Kick every jackal who wants toll lanes out of office. Maryland should not follow the Republican road plan. Do not first create a problem by allowing public roads to become overloaded and deteriorated through lack of maintenance funding, and then "solve" the problem by privatizing the road. Socialism for business and the wealthy. That's the Republican system and as far as I am concerned it's no system.

DickD

[thumbup][thumbup]

sevenstones1000

“Allow” public roads to be overloadeded? 270 is overloaded because every selfish single-occupant car driver thinks he or she is so special that they can’t take public transportation. Too many cars being driven. More public transportation and more tolls on single occupant cars.

MD1756

Rte 270 is overloaded because of population growth. End the public subsidies for having children and you'll reduce the need for increasing infrastructure to support that growth. If you want to talk about selfish, it would appear to me that with roughly 7 1/2 billion people on this planet, it is selfish of those who "want" children (it is not a need) to expect others who are concerned about the impact of a growing population to be forced to support that growth by paying more in taxes than those adding to the population growth problem. Certainly those with more than 2 children are "being selfish" and are a significant part of the problem. Public/private roads in the long run are not a good investment since the private part of the equation expects a profit whereas theoretically the public part does not (except when highway funds are taken and used for other purposes such as k - 12 education, no, wait, make that all day pre-k through 12 education now).

mrnatural1

Spot-on MD1756, thank you! [thumbup][thumbup]

Dcowboys205

I can't believe your name is fcps principal and even think it's ok to post about politics. But if you're truly an fcps principal, you clearly don't travel 270 like most, why does this even concern you?

mrnatural1

Right-on FCPS-Principal! [thumbup][thumbup]

StrengthofLiberty

This is not a transportation plan as much as it is the usual scam perpetrated on our public treasuries - this socialism for the "business-class" aka - public-private partnerships. The con is simple: taxpayers dollars/taxes legislatedly to pay to build a "plan" - then the same tax payers get the "right" to pay to use it. Two profit streams - but for who?

Do we really need to pay for another environmental impact related to automobile centric "transportation plan" - seems pretty clear to anyone playing attention: Automobilies are enviornmental contaminants - they kill people and wildlife. But - they are a fount of taxes on wheels.

And these smug - pseudo intellectual comments about "accountability" - and "transparency" - are becoming as annoying as the predators on our treasuries.

Remember the ICC - do we call it a debate? Because it got built - despite all the impact studies - all the activism against it - all the accountability and all the transparency.

What is even more laughable is just how small Maryland is - and just how much of it is develped, and paved.

The environment always looses out to the toxins of infra-structure on the cheap all designed around the bloody car. Here is a recommendation for the beginnings of a real transporation plan - build a separate highway for trucks. Works beautifully throughout Europe - but - who knows what these "leaders" actually read -

I do get it - cars are at the heart of the American identity - maybe that's the real problem - the interior of a car - being the last vestige of the illusion of democracy.

FCPS-Principal

Who gets the profit? The contractor hired to "operate" the toll system. And the tolls go up every year.

mrnatural1

Good question FCPS.

The profit goes to the company operating the Lexus Lanes -- often a foreign corporation!

In America, our roads have always been PUBLIC. There should be no "profit".

mrnatural1

StrengthofLiberty:

I agree with your first paragraph.

I would like to defend cars a bit though. There is nothing wrong with "cars" per se. If anything the problem is simply that there are too many in one place.

Cars -- and to a lesser extent, other forms of transportation -- give people the freedom to travel where they want, when they want. They give people freedom and autonomy. For enthusiasts they are a source of happiness and enjoyment.

Yes, most still burn fossil fuels, but electric cars are becoming more and more popular.

Yes, cars, in combination with Eisenhower's Interstate System allowed for more sprawling development -- but a big factor in that (which almost no one mentions) is overpopulation. As with so many of our problems, sprawl would be drastically reduced if our population had not spiked. It continues to grow, and that, not "cars", is the root of almost all of our troubles.

mrnatural1

Widening roads is only a temporary solution. Within a few short years, traffic congestion will be as bad as it is now, if not worse.

Lexus lanes (aka "HOT" lanes) are grossly unfair. Only the wealthy can afford to use them regularly. As the article says, the tolls are "adjusted"/raised in order to keep traffic moving. The idea is to raise the toll so high that people bail out and go back to the commoner/riff-raff lanes -- so the truly well-heeled can maintain the posted limit (or higher).

This is a very short-sighted, un-American plan. Our roads are PUBLIC. They should be open to all drivers, 24/7, without any charge other than the motor fuel tax.

Speaking of the fuel tax, it should be raised. It currently works out to about 2 cents per mile with a 25 mpg car. It should be gradually raised to 3 cents and then 4, and indexed for inflation.

No one likes taxes, but 2-4 cents per mile beats tolls that can be up to $4.50 per mile(!) (I-66 inside the Beltway).

Has anyone heard what the max toll for these proposed Lexus Lanes would be? My guess is that info is top-secret, only to be revealed if the proponents of this scheme are successful.

We would not allow a private corporation to add new wings onto public schools and charge additional tuition for them. We should not allow the equivalent with our roads.

FCPS-Principal

Widening roads CAN be a more permanent solution if you regulate development along the corridor and allow room for expansion along the ROW. Not everyone has to be as dumb as Virginia and Leesburg.

mrnatural1

FCPS,

Very true.

Unfortunately, FredCo has a horrible record when it comes to regulating development.

It's too late to allow room for expansion. The ROW is fixed and development has occurred right up to the edge of it.

There may be room for one more lane each direction, but that's about it.

Whatever the max number of lanes is, it's fixed. There is no point in widening I-270. It will just encourage more growth in FredCo, PA, and WV. Then, within a short time, the highway will be as impacted as it is now, if not more so.

We need to "stop digging". Stop doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

Growth has limits, and we reached them a while ago.

We should stop playing "Charlie Brown" to the developers (Lucy) with the football.

MD1756

I don't have a problem with raising the fuel tax except that in the past MD has stolen from the transportation funds to pay for education. With proposals to spend billions more on schools what will stop them from raiding the transportation budget (already underfunded because of growth) again and again? Put a lock box on transportation taxes like they did with the gambling taxes for education.

mrnatural1

Good point MD1756. Misappropriation (theft) of highway maintenance funds has been a huge problem in the past and needs to stop. It is unethical and immoral and should be illegal.

Any money collected thru the motor fuel tax should be used only for construction and maintenance of roads; highways; tunnels; and bridges. Nothing else.

The fuel tax is essentially a user fee. At first glance, user fees might seem to make sense -- you gotta 'pay to play'. In reality user fees are grossly unfair because the cost is the same for everyone, regardless of their income. $0.50 per gallon (the avg state & federal tax) is next to nothing for someone who is well-off, but it is significant to many/most people. That's even more regressive than a "flat tax" where everyone pays the same percentage of their income.

Tolls are even worse, because instead of about 2 cents per mile they can be up to $4.50 per mile (!!) (I-66 in VA). Same issue, but MUCH more money.

So at a minimum, with the fuel tax being so regressive, it should be applied solely to highway projects. In fact, a case can be made for some highway maint expenses to be paid from general revenue, since even those who do not drive receive some benefit from our public road system. That has generally been the case over the years.

User fees for gov't services are actually very rare in America. Offhand, the only other thing I can think of that's comparable to the fuel tax are the entrance fees for state and national parks. Even with the national parks, the "recreation fees" (user fees) only cover about 25% of their total expenses. Those fees all remain with the NPS.

The fuel tax and park fees are *exceptions*. We simply cannot fund all gov't programs with user fees. Consider our public schools. What if instead of being funded with property taxes parents had to pay tuition. My wife and I chose not to have kids, so we'd be MUCH better off. Our property taxes would be cut in half, but there are many families who could not afford the tuition. The result would be even more ignorance than we are currently surrounded by. More crime and unemployment. More drug abuse and domestic violence, etc.

The idea is that we all contribute according to our financial ability. Some people pay in less than they receive in services and vice versa. If people were to insist on user fees to fund everything, our system would fall apart.

In fact, one might wonder why our highway system and our parks are not funded 100% with general revenue also.

Where we have user fees, they should be spent as intended.

MD1756

I agree with some of what you say, but I believe user fees are more widespread than you think. Additionally, having children is a choice not a need so asking those of us who have no children to actually pay more for education that those who have children is in my opinion selfish and immoral. Back to user fees. They may be regressive when compared to income but why compare it to income at all? Compare it to the use or demand of the service. Additionally there are all sorts of user fees such as any type of license (e.g., driver's, hunter's, day care operator, etc.), registrations (e.g., auto, pets in MoCo, etc.), other fees/taxes such as a tax based on water usage in your water bill (the more water you use the higher the tax that helps fund controls for removal of nitrogen from wastewater), same for electricity more kWh you use, the higher the county energy tax. Government programs should use a hybrid approach for funding. A base fee that everyone pays (e.g., even those who don't drive a car depend on the roads for the goods they purchase to be transported) and then an additional user fee aspect. When people have to pay for what they use, the true value begins to become apparent. With increasing environmental problems caused by having children the government should try an approach similar to the acid rain program (as opposed to China's attempt to limit growth). Each person should be given one credit to reproduce. Therefore a couple could have two children without paying anything for having them. If they want more, they need to buy credits equal to the number of children they have over their two. Those who don't want children can sell their credit to those who do. The market would then set the price for trading credits for children. Again having children is a want not a need so everyone shouldn't have to pay for some people's wants. Very few if any of my wants are paid for by other tax payers.

desii

I'd like to have the money from the previous "studies" that we (taxpayers) have paid for, yet no improvements, none, made to widen I-270 from Germantown to Frederick. I understand this one is for Toll Lanes, but still...a bunch of waisted money in the past. Do something already...Montgomery County went to 6 & 8 lanes many years ago...and there are still only 4 to/from Frederick. It's been needed for decades!

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