MARYLAND-ROADS

The Maryland Board of Public Works gathers Wednesday to discuss the proposal to add toll lanes to the I-270 Corridor and the Beltway at the State House in Annapolis. The Board of Public Works, made up of Gov. Larry Hogan, center, Treasurer Nancy Kopp, left, and Comptroller Peter Franchot, right, approved the governor’s plan to build toll lanes on the Beltway and I-270 as a public-private partnership.

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Board of Public Works voted 2 to 1 Wednesday to allow the state to solicit private companies to build and operate toll lanes on Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway as part of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to ease traffic congestion in the Washington suburbs.

In a change to Hogan’s initial proposal, the I-270 lanes will be built first. Adding toll lanes to the American Legion Bridge and Interstate 495 in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which has been more controversial, will be phases 2 and 3.

Hogan said the American Legion Bridge, which connects Maryland and Virginia along the Beltway, needed the most immediate relief. However, he said he would “reluctantly” prioritize I-270 because it was less controversial than the Beltway, where widening would require destroying more homes.

“This transformative project that we’re voting on today is about finally taking the first step to move forward and to finally take action on an issue that unfortunately elected officials have literally ignored for decades,” said Hogan, a Republican. “It will result in less traffic, more peace of mind, cleaner air, and a much better quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Marylanders for decades to come.”

He added, “I’m moving forward with 270 because more people want to do 270.”

Delaying the bridge and Beltway portion by two years, he said, would give state transportation officials more time to work with leaders in Montgomery and Prince George’s to address their concerns.

The vote designating the toll lanes project as a public-private partnership allows the Maryland Department of Transportation to begin pursuing proposals from teams of companies.

The consortiums would design, build and operate up to four toll lanes on each highway — and pay for the construction — in exchange for keeping most of the toll revenue over 50 years. They will also rebuild decades-old overpasses and the existing lanes, which will remain free.

Hogan has said the contracts — valued at more than $11 billion — would be the largest public-private partnership ever in the United States.

Frederick County Councilman Kai Hagen testified against the plan, saying the plan didn’t take an environmental approach and look strongly enough at climate change.

“Compared to any alternative possible today, this plan is the single worst option in terms of climate change,” including doing nothing, Hagen said.

Along with opposition from Hagen, delegates Karen Lewis Young and Ken Kerr, both representing Frederick County, were two of nearly 60 state legislators who signed a letter opposing the plan this week.

However, Sen. Michael Hough, a longtime supporter of the plan, praised Hogan and the Board of Public Works for approving the plan.

“I sincerely thank Governor Hogan for his leadership and Comptroller Franchot for voting to move forward on Frederick County’s biggest infrastructure need, which is expanding I-270,” Hough said in a statement. “Commuters are snarled in nightmarish traffic throughout the day on this outdated highway. I’m very happy to see real progress to expand I-270.”

Hough added that he was pleased to see the amendment to study a monorail system linking Frederick to the Metro system’s Red Line added to the plan.

The approval is significant because it starts a relatively fast-paced process in which companies will spend millions of dollars to put together detailed engineering proposals and line up financing.

State officials have said they would release a “request for qualifications” to the private sector within a couple months of the board’s approval and seek the board’s approval for the first of five 50-year contracts in fall 2020. It’s unclear how changing the order to solicit proposals for I-270 first might affect that schedule.

All federally required environmental reviews would be complete before any contracts are finalized, transportation officials said.

Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, voted for the plan. Democratic Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who is appointed by the General Assembly, voted against it.

The Maryland Board of Public Works also voted 2-1 to approve Franchot’s amendments to allow buses to use the toll lanes free and to study the feasibility of an elevated monorail line adjacent to I-270 from Shady Grove to Frederick. Additionally, 10 percent of the state’s share of any toll revenue would be allotted to mass transit in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The governor’s support of Franchot’s amendments appeared to be a peace offering to transit advocates and elected leaders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties who had complained that transit had been given short shrift in Hogan’s “highways-only” traffic relief plan.

Franchot also addressed a risk that state transportation officials also likely have been weighing — the fact that growing political discord over the project could discourage companies from bidding on, or loaning money to, a project that lacked broad public and political support.

“I can’t imagine the private sector not being intensely interested in this” project, Franchot said, “because I think a lot of opponents from our local jurisdictions will begin to be mollified by the changes we’re making today.”

Hogan changed the order of the toll lanes construction after more than three hours of discussion, including sometimes testy exchanges between the governor and some toll lane opponents, at a packed meeting at the statehouse in Annapolis. Afterward, supporters and opponents of the plan were left scratching their heads and asking each other what had just happened.

It was unclear, for example, where the lanes will be built first — on the lower part of I-270 between the Beltway and I-370, which state officials have said would be more lucrative for the private sector, or between I-370 and Frederick, where northbound traffic grinds to a halt every evening as the highway narrows from six lanes to two.

Widening the upper portion first could delay the project by two years because the federally required environmental impact study, which typically takes about that long, hasn’t begun for that section.

Even so, the impacts for I-270 are expected to be much less significant than for the Beltway because I-270 generally has far more public right of way.

So far, the state’s study has found up to 34 homes and four businesses, almost all in Montgomery County, would be destroyed to widen the Beltway, along with pieces of another 1,262 properties. The study of the lower part of I-270, south of I-370, so far has found no homes or businesses that would be destroyed and up to 234 pieces of property that would need to be taken.

Even supporters of toll lanes on I-270 said expanding it before the Beltway could make morning traffic jams worse, with a much wider I-270 dumping traffic onto a four-lane Outer Loop and a bridge that’s already backed up daily.

“Coming south in the morning, the backup is at the spur and the bridge,” said Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, which supported adding the I-270 lanes. “You can’t fix I-270 south without fixing the bridge.”

Under the plan, the new lanes will have variable tolling; the cost to use them would rise with congestion to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

Maryland state highway administrator Greg Slater told the board that the formula for calculating the tolls will be determined in each contract, but that the board for the Maryland Transportation Authority will approve a range.

News-Post editor Allen Etzler contributed to this report.

(24) comments

Weat925

This is not a one solution (tolls) fix. We need to consider a number of options: 1.) Place a massive toll for out of state users (WVA and PA) 2.) a monorail from Walkersville to Urbana to Shady Grove. 3.) tax credits to businesses who provide employees telecommuting 4.) EV charging/HOV lane only 5.) large trucks and buses must use one lane during commuting hours. The Linganore/ Oakdale/ Urbana schools are already overcrowded- the P3 must a "tol not to exceed amount," plus contribute funds for ancillary roads and educational infrastructure.

seanjames

the thing that no one ever seems to mention with regards to toll lanes is that - by design - they do not alleviate congestion. think about it, why would anyone pay to use a toll lane if the other lanes were free-flowing? toll lanes RELY on congestion. it's a racket. period not to even mention that study after study has proven that more lanes never alleviates congestion anyway. the only way to alleviate congestion is to provide a real alternative to driving!

ABQ2013

It’s not a perfect solution but there will be more lanes on 270. Those lanes are desperately needed. Too bad elected officials abdicated responsibility for decades and allowed 270 north of Clarksburg to remain two lanes. I’ve lived here all my life and am moving out of the area soon, specifically because of my 270 commute. Congestion isn’t just during rush hour— it occurs throughout the day.

seanjames

it's not a solution at all. google studies on adding highway lanes and how well it helps to alleviate congestion. short answer: it doesn't

threecents

I am against tolls because they are confusing, they slow traffic, and they cost a lot to build and maintain. The roads are plenty expensive enough. Be transparent, and pay for them with taxes - gas tax, income tax, whatever. It is a shame that the metro system seems to be falling apart.

jerseygrl42

A bit of hypocrisy here, some of those in political office who are now opposed to adding lanes, said not a peep when thousands of homes were ( and continue to be) constructed which has now created a horrible situation for those forced to commute to the DC metro area to earn a living with 1.5 to 2.0 hours on the road each way every day...ditto the Frederick schools which in some cases have become trailer parks....no consistency of thought for sure

seanjames

for it to be hypocrisy presupposes that the only way to alleviate congestion is more highway lanes. not only is that not the case, but more highway lanes has been proven to NOT effectively alleviate congestion

jerseygrl42

For your info the State is talking about BOTH lanes and mass transit and we do need both but until such time there should be a ban on building

StrengthofLiberty

11 billion 'public-private' money. Or, for us not punch drunk on pr/bs/brand speak, public treasury financing/bill paying. This is their best low hanging fruit policy - 11 billion dollar [before overages] “massive†project, despite the fact the waste recycling industry is collapsing, or in fact - collapsed. The 86 tons of resources each person requires for the quality of lifestyle they experience today remains relentless. Translating to a constant flow of garbage/waste. Instead of building a waste processing facility that would transform these materials into commodities - no - Larry and his "team" want to expand fossil fuel consumption - despite the facts bearing out people are driving less. But more to the point from my and many others perspective: [This is to all those "moving to Frederick for a quality of lifeâ€] - Stay where you are. Stop coming out to our foothills, our farmlands, our rural landscapes - clear cutting them to put up some stupid looking plastic house with useless plastic shutters, and planting useless grass lawns, so your poodles can frolic away from the urban swill that has been legislated into existence. Burdening our natural habitats so your kids can be chauffeured around the county in pollutant buses that cost the county millions and millions of treasury fund dollars. Moving out to the countryside and killing the habitat is not “environmental†or “sustainableâ€. You are in fact perpetuating habitat ruination, and generating additional burden on already overburdened waste management policies. This is the “team†plan - 11 billion spending of our dollars to perpetuate /busines as usual on a model that is killing everything. Our whole of our earth - our Eden. This our Maryland. In these "conversations" we see it more and more - being the "executive" apparently gives an elected “leader†monarchial power to declare other people's money, other people's land as their own as acting as the government/the corporation. For this “Quality of life" - As we are being led now - incinerators will be required to truck and bus garbage and waste away from where it is generated. Out of sight out of mind - yes? But what really stood out in this article was the comment made by G-Larry about his business of fossil fuel perpetuation - “I’m moving forward with 270 because ‘more people want to do 270.’†Do 270. G-Larry, and your team “want to do†270? Isn’t that assassin speak for “do somebodyâ€? Or in this case: “Do the habitat†- The cost of the hit: 11 billion dollars [before overages]. Well done G-Larry & Gang. Or would a better pr/bs/brand talking title be: Habitat Wrecking Crew. [insert their bio profile pics here]. More roads - more lanes - more pick pocketing the working/consumption class. Come off it.

CheetoBenito

More paragraph indentations!

seanjames

we had our chance to oust hogan, but the rich neo-liberals in bethesda would rather watch the world burn than risk their taxes going up half a percent

JohnSchaeffer1

Yes adding lanes to 270 is badly needed. However making them toll roads is the worst option. This is just another tax making it harder for the average working commuter to make ends meet. What will the toll be? $3 , $5, $10 one way. Probably not much less. So the plan is to make the commuter pay anyway from $30 to $50 a week. I'm very disappointed in Hogan. What this is, is just another politician's approach to solving a problem. Treat the people like ATMs and make them pay more.

Moon otter

As someone who has to travel to Vienna for a PATC meeting twice a month in the evening the toll roads in Va. don't work especially at Tysons. Lucky enough I get off at Rte 123 to get into Vienna. It would be interesting to find out what the traffic load is on the current toll road in Montgomery and generated revenue. I thought that was to help out with the traffic on the beltway. Apparently not. Toll roads do not work. In Pa the Pa turnpike since they raised their tolls the usage has dropped even more. Tolls don't work. With this governor he reduced tolls on the bridges and yet he wants to add toll roads. Not smart. If you build it use gas tax money so all can use it.

matthewboh

[thumbup][thumbup]

dcmetro

Nothing has been done about widening I-270 or an alternative route in the Frederick County area since around 1960 when it was built and the late 1980's in Montgomery County. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of people have moved to this area. If you don't want to create the transportation routes necessary to help people get to where they need to go, then don't seek high tech companies to create jobs causing them to want to live here. Other options are fine to explore as well, but many are cost prohibitive and much more than a highway itself. Another point is that not all the traffic congestion in this area is due to people simply attempting to go to work. Look at the weekend congestion that often occurs on 270/15 from Urbana to Liberty Road. This is simply people running errands and pass through travelers attempting to get from Point A to Point B. I do wish the highway could be built with gas tax funds we pay, but for such an expensive project I guess that alone doesn't foot the bill. I'm not an expert and certainly don't know much about the viable solutions, but do know the few mile stretch of toll lanes I often travel between the American Legion Bridge and I-66 exit has eased up traffic in the Tysons area. That of course is for now since the flow of people into the region continues at a steady pace.

schaeferhund

This only means more sprawl in Frederick County, followed by the same congestion within a decade after completion. Frederick County will be paved over by the Republicans. The only consolation is that, after Frederick County becomes as urban as Montgomery County, the electorate will finally extirpate any Republican state delegation from office.

Lev928

I have to agree with schaeferhund ... both as a Republican AND as a commuter using 270. Forget the politics at this point. The problem is over-development in Frederick county coupled with a lesser cost of living. People have been fleeing Montgomery County into Frederick County for several years, but they still work in Montgomery County, D.C., and northern Virginia. Hence, the morning and late afternoon rush hour traffic congestion. Frederick County government sees nothing but dollar signs in tax revenues from the transplants and new developments to support them. Frederick County WILL be the next Montgomery County. If you know history, Montgomery County (a.k.a. MoCo) used to be a part of Frederick County until it became its own entity. Now, all of the problems and disease of MoCO are becoming the problem of Frederick County ... including costly real estate, taxes and traffic. The only way to solve the problem is to widen 270 to three lanes both north and south, and then Frederick County needs to place a long-term moratorium on new residential developments. But they will never do that because of the tax revenue potential. Remember, the elected people in Frederick County government are either FROM Montgomery County, or they see the tax revenues generated from MoCo residents moving there. Either way, they're either stupid or corrupt.

fisherkid89

Lifelong Frederick county resident, I moved to Washington county for the lower property taxes and real estate prices. But soon it will be pricey in Washington county as well.

ABQ2013

Well said. Frederick County is going down the drain. It’s really sad.

DickD

What happened to the monorail idea? Not enough money for Hogan's friends?

FCPS-Principal

The rats are smelling huge cheese profit from the public trough.

DickD

[thumbup][thumbup]

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threecents

And he dresses funny.

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DickD

Polka dotted bow ties, three?[scared]

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