Maryland is moving forward on its plan to add four toll lanes to both Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway.
On Thursday, the state’s transportation department announced it received 27 responses to its request for initial information from companies interested in financing, building and operating the estimated $7.6 billion project.
“This is a significant and very positive step in the process,” State Highway Administrator Greg Slater said in a statement. “This level of interest indicates that industry is meeting our demand … for transformative and innovative ideas to address the congestion issue in Maryland ….”
The state received responses from regional, national and international firms from seven countries. Firms that expressed interest included investors, construction companies, engineering firms and others.
The state did not name any of the companies in a press announcement about the level of interest in the public-private partnership.
Gov. Larry Hogan first pitched the plan to widen the highways in September. Both I-270 and I-495 experience significant traffic congestion, particularly during rush hours.
Hogan said the plan would not cost taxpayers money, because the private partner chosen by the state would finance the improvements and they would be paid for through toll revenue.
The state asked for companies interested in partnering with the state on the project to provide information about their firms, whether they can handle widening both highways, if they were capable of submitting a detailed proposal on how to build the new lanes and what technical challenges they may face, among other questions.
The responses to the request for information were due Dec. 20. Interest in the public-private partnership, described by state officials as one of the largest in the world, drew representatives from more than 100 companies to a presentation in Linthicum to find out more about it in mid-December.
The next step in the process for the proposed project is for the state to draft a formal request for proposals (RFP) to enable companies to bid on it.
State Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said in November the state expects to receive responses to its RFP within the next two years. Construction could begin within the next five years.
The project calls for the additional lanes to be built on the Beltway between the American Legion Bridge and Woodrow Wilson Bridge and on I-270 between the Beltway and I-70 in Frederick.
Montgomery County officials expressed skepticism about the ambitious project given the expensive commercial and residential developments that already line the highways. They’ve also wondered how the Beltway could be widened over Rock Creek in the county without harming the environment.
Rahn told the County Council during the November meeting that the state would seek a proposal that limits the taking of properties near the highways and one that also protects Holy Cross Hospital, Rock Creek and Sligo parks.