The holidays are normally a time for peaceful reflection and joyous celebration for the blessings we enjoy. This year, state politics plays the Grinch for our commuter neighbors and business owners that depend on 50 plus miles of asphalt to get to and from work as we face even more delay on a project we desperately need.

After a multi-year process of discussion, design and strategy, the proposal floated by Gov. Larry Hogan to bring in a private sector partner to advance the expansion and enhancement of I-270 has once again been pushed back for the lack of a second vote from the three-member Board of Public Works.

That entity, known colloquially as the BPW, is comprised of the governor, the state treasurer, and the comptroller of Maryland. Both the governor and comptroller are elected by the people of Maryland. The state treasurer, Nancy Kopp, is elected by the members of the House of Delegates. She therefore represents the will of the majority of the House. Comptroller Peter Franchot has found some common ground with Gov. Hogan, despite the fact that they belong to the opposite parties.

But roads, highways and bridges shouldn’t necessarily be partisan issues. A Democrat who sits in five (5) hours of daily traffic gets just as frustrated as a Republican.

For four decades, I-270 commuters have been promised solutions to the morning and evening rush (HA!) hour(s) when that interstate doubles as a parking lot. The (literal) billions needed to add capacity to this road haven’t ever been on any government’s radar, not local, state or federal. Therefore, any promises made have been as empty as the lone sock in the back of your drawer.

Gov. Hogan has proposed a unique public/private partnership (P3) to finance the improvements. He suggested the state would hire a private road builder to design/construct additional lanes on 495 and 270 as “managed toll lanes.” Anyone desiring a guaranteed faster commute would pay extra to use this new capacity, by means of an EZPass device. The logic is that not everyone would want to pay more, but SOME would. Those drivers, the ones who pay the higher price, would also ease congestion in the existing lanes, making everyone’s commute a little faster. The cost of the added capacity would be repaid to the developer by allowing them to collect the toll revenue over a period of years. This is the approach Virginia used successfully on their portion of the Beltway, and traffic delays have been reduced for both toll users and users of the free lanes.

In June 2019, the P3 came before the BPW for an initial vote. Several elected officials in Montgomery County came out in opposition to the project, citing environmental concerns. The Frederick County Chamber of Commerce actively advocated for approval, citing the impact to our business community and all of those long-forgotten commuters.

In a surprising outcome, the governor and comptroller accepted the Montgomery County elected officials’ requests, and pushed back the portion of the 270 project, while actually accelerating the Frederick County portion (Clarksburg to I-70). The 495 section in Montgomery County generated so much controversy that it was deferred and the P3 received its initial approval in a 2-1 vote.

The next surprise was a fall 2019 discussion between Virginia’s new Gov. Ralph Northam and Gov. Hogan. In their discussion, the Democrat from Virginia and the Republican from Maryland struck a historic deal to address the traffic issues at the American Legion Bridge spanning the Potomac River.

This agreement required the P3 project to be revised AGAIN, this time re-inserting the Maryland portion of the 495 Beltway. This change requires the whole project to once again face a BPW vote. Now, with controversial changes to the right-of-way acquisition rules for property along the existing roadway, Comptroller Franchot has asked for yet another voting delay. If there’s any good news here, it’s that the comptroller has also been a proponent of a short-term solution for I-270. His concerns relate more specifically to the planned improvements to 495 in Montgomery County.

So in less than one year, we’ve gone from a celebration of the potential, for the first time in decades, for major changes to the carrying capacity of 1-270 to more excuses, more delay, no improvements and no forward progress.

Balancing added lane capacity, improved MARC service predictability, high-occupancy vehicular traffic expansion and even a study of a passenger monorail is the right answer for the I-270 corridor.

Let’s hope the New Year brings with it real solutions to the daily traffic nightmare we face.

(18) comments

MisAul

I am personally tired of driving 270 to earn a decent salary. I have been doing the drive for over 25 years. Now that I want to work in Frederick, I will have to take at least a 50% cut in pay.

I am for getting a group of commuters together to discuss starting some new businesses. New businesses in Frederick will allow people to work in Frederick and take some of the pressure off of 270.

mrnatural1

Good idea, MisAul. Anything to avoid widening I-270, encouraging more development and making the problems worse.

On a large scale -- which I doubt you're talking about -- if major employers (re)locate here in FredCo, they will almost certainly not pay what employers in MoCO, D.C., and NoVA pay. The cost of living here is less, and most people would be willing to work for less if they did not have to drive down I-270.

Also, just as many people commute from FredCo (and further) to the D.C. area, if the area around Frederick City became an employment hub, people would commute *HERE* from areas with an even lower cost of living -- WV, PA, Western MD, driving wages down.

In short, everyone does what they think is in their best interest -- even if they are misguided.

For example, if those who commute 'down the road' were to really consider ALL of the costs of commuting, including intangibles like: the value of their time; danger and stress related to driving; risk of receiving a ticket or being involved in an accident; the effect their time spent on the road has on their family and other relationships; the negative effect on their mental health and overall happiness, etc -- I think many would decide that the extra money they think they are making is not worth it.

That's before even considering the ACTUAL cost of driving. It's not just the cost of the gasoline, as many seem to think. Driving a newer car (less than 5 years old) costs about $0.60 per mile, or more -- much more for luxury sedans and SUVs. Even older cars that are almost fully depreciated have maint.; repairs; insurance; and registration costs -- in addition to the cost of fuel. They may cost about $0.40 per mile. The cost of gas might be around 10 cents per mile, but the true/total cost of driving is about 4-6+ times that. So that 60 mile r/t to Shady Grove is costs ~$36 per day -- in after tax money. Then there is parking and train fare on top of that (for those who ride Metro) -- that's another say $15 per day. That's over $50, about $75 before taxes!

$75 per day x about 22 work days per month = $1,650 per month that could all go toward a mortgage payment (assuming the payment is mostly interest).

So for anyone considering moving here because they think it will save them money and improve their life -- think again. Long and hard.

For anyone already living here and commuting, if you consider ALL the costs of commuting, you may decide that a "lower paying job" actually pays more, all things considered.

mrnatural1

[There was no "+Add Reply" button below]

On Dec 26, 2019 @ 12:01pm, gabrielshorn2013 wrote:

"Agreed mrnatural. Lexus lanes are a huge rip off of the taxpayer. However, regarding payment of taxes by those with home chargers, I can hear the arguments now that the end user paid for the electricity, so it's theirs to use as they wish, without additional taxes for a specific use. Foe EVs, maybe mandatory mileage reporting as a condition of registration could take care of the tax issue.

BTW, We all have 220 volts available in our homes, using both legs of the incoming power line."

~

[John McLaughlin voice]: "Those that say that the end user paid for the electricity, so it's theirs to use as they wish, without additional taxes for a specific use, are WRONG!" [cool]

No doubt some people would say that, but they would be shot down in flames. Using electricity as a motor fuel without paying the tax is the equivalent of using "off-road" diesel in a personal vehicle. It's indefensible.

After further consideration, I agree -- it is too easy for people to cheat by charging at home. Mandatory mileage reporting is probably best. That, add/or designing EVs so that they keep track of and report energy usage and/or miles driven. Then the *source* of the electricity would not matter and would not need to be metered.

You'd have no reason to know this, but I'm an electro-mechanical tech, so I'm familiar with residential wiring. Of course almost all homes have 200A service -- 120/240 volts. What I was thinking was that, as I said below, "most people will use a 240V 'smart charger' which could easily be designed to measure kWh and report it via WiFi, Ethernet, cellular, or satellite." The fact is though, there are already a whole lot of "Level 2" (240V) home chargers out there that do not measure kWh used, let alone report it.

Even if we could snap our fingers and recall all of the ones that haven't been sold and replace them with models that measure and report kWh used, those with the existing chargers would be getting a free ride -- and there can be no doubt that the current design would remain available on the grey market.

mrnatural1

Regarding raising funds for highway construction and maintenance:

* There is nothing wrong with the tried and true fuel tax -- it just hasn't been raised in over 25 years. Had it simply kept pace with inflation we'd be in good shape. It needs to be increased. We currently pay about 50 cents per gallon -- that's 2 cents per mile for a 25 mpg car. It should be closer to 3-4 cents per mile. Everyone can afford that.

* Yes, as electric cars become more popular fuel tax revenues will decrease, however, there is no reason why taxes cannot be paid when electric vehicle batteries are charged. Instead of $/gallon it will be $/kWh.

As Dick said, there is no reason we must pay tolls -- any tolls -- if fuel and electricity taxes are set appropriately.

Of course no one likes taxes. Politicians are very reluctant to raise taxes, but tolls are simply taxes by another name.

The reality is that roads, bridges, and tunnels must be paid for somehow.

Would you rather pay 3 or 4 pennies per mile, or $0.50 to $4+ per mile? Oh, and that $0.50 to $4+ per mile is on TOP of the fuel tax you already pay!

The fuel (whether petroleum or electric) tax is FAR less expensive than any toll, anywhere in the nation. It's not even close.

"Toll road" or "HOT lane" may *sound* better to some people than the dreaded "T-word" (tax) but tolls will bleed you dry.

gabrielshorn2013

How do you charge the tax with recharging stations at home?

mrnatural1

I was hoping no one would ask that...

Good question. Short answer -- IDK. A couple thoughts:

* While it is possible to plug an electric car into an ordinary 120V/15A outlet, that is a last resort because the charging is VERY slow -- about 4 miles of range per hour.

* Most people will use a 240V 'smart charger' which could easily be designed to measure kWh and report it via WiFi, Ethernet, cellular, or satellite.

* Cars already have black boxes that record all sorts of data -- G-force from braking/cornering/accelerating; speed; steering wheel angle, etc. It would be hard to argue that for electric cars to report miles driven and/or kWh consumed is a bridge too far.

The various methods of tax collection are secondary (to me). My main concern is preventing any further toll roads and HOT/Lexus lanes.

The motor fuel tax has always worked well, and will continue to work for ICE vehicles -- as long as they are on the road. There is nothing inherently wrong with the fuel tax -- well, aside from it being regressive taxation. It does absolutely need to be raised, but even if it is doubled -- or even tripled (which no one is suggesting) -- it will remain FAR less expensive than tolls.

Electric vehicle owners can and will pay their fair share. There is no legitimate need for toll roads and Lexus lanes.

gabrielshorn2013

Agreed mrnatural. Lexus lanes are a huge rip off of the taxpayer. However, regarding payment of taxes by those with home chargers, I can hear the arguments now that the end user paid for the electricity, so it's theirs to use as they wish, without additional taxes for a specific use. Foe EVs, maybe mandatory mileage reporting as a condition of registration could take care of the tax issue.

BTW, We all have 220 volts available in our homes, using both legs of the incoming power line.

mrnatural1

Quote:

"Therefore, any promises made have been as empty as the lone sock in the back of your drawer."

Good line. As for the rest of the piece, not so much:

Q: "Anyone desiring a guaranteed faster commute would pay extra to use this new capacity, by means of an EZPass device."

Mr. N: That statement is disingenuous and cruel. EVERYONE wants a "faster commute". What the HOT/Lexus lane proponents always neglect to mention is that very few people can actually afford to use the Lexus lanes. In fact, in order for Lexus lanes to function properly (maintain a reasonable average speed of traffic) the tolls MUST be set high enough to exclude all but a small percentage of drivers. So it is misleading at best to suggest that "anyone" can simply pay extra.

Q: "Those drivers, the ones who pay the higher price, would also ease congestion in the existing lanes, making everyone’s commute a little faster."

Mr. N: The commute would be a LOT faster for those rich enough to pay the tolls. However, it would barely affect the speed in the "riff-raff/peasant lanes".

The answer is not more lanes. It has been shown over and over again -- all across the country -- that building more/wider roads only brings more development. Widened roads become packed with cars again in no time. Then everyone is back in the same boat, except the linear parking lot is wider -- and with limited to non-existent right-of-way, then we're out of luck.

While it is a short-term band-aid solution, at least if all additional lanes are open to the public -- which has always been the American way -- everyone can enjoy reduced traffic congestion for a short time. With this "P3" proposal to build Lexus/HOT lanes, traffic in the existing lanes will only be reduced moderately -- and then, only initially. As time goes on, all additional traffic will continue to utilize the "free" lanes. That MUST be the case, by definition, because to keep the Lexus lanes moving at or above the minimum design speed, the tolls will be continuously increased. The tolls will always be unaffordable for most people. It must be that way. If the tolls were reasonable, far too many people would use the HOT lanes and they would slow to a crawl.

In short, Lexus/HOT lanes are a SCAM. They are un-American. They are nothing more than a way for the wealthy to buy their way out of traffic on PUBLIC roads -- roads that we all paid for with fuel taxes and general revenue. Even if a private corporation builds the lanes, they would be built on a public right-of-way, OUR land.

Lexus lanes are analogous to FCPS contracting with a corporation to build shiny new additions on existing schools and allowing them to charge tuition. I doubt many people would go for that.

DickD

There is absolutely no reason that we need toll roads with all of the gas taxes being paid.

Only a Republican Governor would want to charge you for what you already are paying taxes for.

gabrielshorn2013

But Dick, as has been reported in the FNP, the gas tax just ain't cuttin' it anymore, because of the increased efficiency of cars that use much less fuel per mile. The gas tax is a fixed amount, and not a fixed rate. If we want to stem development, we have to stop making it economically desirable to commute here.

DickD

They are going to have to change that with electric cars anyway. Tax all based on weight and drop the gas tax, federal taxes will have to be a part of the tax.

gabrielshorn2013

They need to tax per mile driven. Good luck collecting that.

DickD

As far as stopping development, it needs a lot more than gas taxes to stop it. It just isn't a legitimate concern. Development fees will have to address that.

gabrielshorn2013

All development fees do is transfer the cost to the buyer, making houses more expensive, and driving up real estate prices in the region. While that may be great for you and me, it makes it impossible for low income folks, or those on fixed incomes to stay here, because as real estate prices rise, so do the associated taxes and fees. Everything is connected. Pulling on one string affects the entire web. Not improving the the transportation infrastructure provides a natural commuting time barrier that few will put up with. If we build it, they will come.

public-redux

Gabe, Stop being so logical!!!11!

notconcerned

US15, the center of our City and County is the number one priority and has been for more than a decade. Energy on the politics of I-270 is wasted today, as it has been since 1990 when plans called for a urgent reconstruction of 270 from MontCo to I-70 to 4 lanes in each direction. Lets make US15 a showpiece of cooperation and sound transportation planning,

olefool

US 15 is a National Historical Byway..... Leave it alone.

DickD

We are going to. We will just put up a fence at the Maryland line.

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