The Maryland Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it is extending its deadline for the contractor of a project to widen parts of I-270 and I-495, and rebuild the American Legion Bridge. Commuters hoping for wider lanes on I-270 and a reconstructed American Legion Bridge will have to wait longer, if the projects move through at all.
MDOT’s move indicates it is leaving the fate of the project for the administration of Governor-elect Wes Moore (D). Maryland Matters first reported Thursday’s news.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been a champion of the project for the last several years, saying it’s needed to alleviate traffic congestion in Montgomery County.
Nearly five years ago, Hogan proposed widening all of the Beltway in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as I-270. Installing two toll lanes in each direction would help pay for the project. Last year, the Maryland Department of Transportation announced that the first phase had been scaled back, and now only includes the replacement of the American Legion Bridge, the portion of I-270 that runs to the I-370 interchange and the westernmost section of I-495 that leads to I-270. It’s still not entirely clear why they chose to do so.
The cost of this work is estimated to be between $3.75 billion and $4.25 billion.
Instead of the original May 27, 2022 deadline for Accelerate Maryland Partners (AM Partners) — the consortium of contractors and subcontractors tasked with completing the project — the deadline was extended to March 21, 2023.
Moore said on the campaign trail earlier this year that the project needed another look, and told Democrats at an event at Zinnia in Silver Spring: ““Are we going to deal with the issue of the American Legion Bridge over the next decade? Absolutely, we will. … Are we going to deal with the issue of [Interstate] 270 and the Beltway? Absolutely, we will. But the current plan that is in place right now is not the way we are going to do it.”
He told Bethesda Beat in a brief interview after that event that he was willing to look at reversible lanes to solve traffic congestion — a solution long championed by County Executive Marc Elrich (D), who opposes Hogan’s plan to use toll lanes.
It’s unclear what the project’s exact fate is, but Thursday’s announcement is important because final contract approvals will rest in the hands of a new Board of Public Works: Governor-elect Moore and Comptroller-elect Brooke Lierman (D), along with Treasurer Dereck Davis (D).
Marilyn Balcome, the Council Member-elect for District 2,which includes Germantown, Clarksburg and other parts of the upcounty, said she wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s news.
She supports transportation solutions to the I-270 corridor, but added that the upcounty traffic? has been “stuck” in traffic for years. Recently, she said a drive from Germantown to a 9 a.m. meeting in Bethesda took 55 minutes — one that without traffic, should be around half an hour quicker.
There needs to be an effort to expand MARC service, since the infrastructure is already in place in the upcounty, Balcombe said. Governor-elect Moore and the federal government need to be involved in discussions with CSX, the owner of the rail lines, to come up with some solution for more passenger rail service for the upcounty down to Washington, D.C., she added.
“It’s just frustrating that people who in the past who have been making these decisions don’t really grasp the idea that the upcounty needs real solutions,” Balcombe said. “Whether you like it or not, we are automobile centric. That might change in 10, 20, 50 years, but this is where we are at now … Yes, I want to support transit, but we also have to support roads.”
Del. Marc Korman (D-District 16, Bethesda), who has opposed Hogan’s project in the past, said it will be up to Moore’s administration how it wants to proceed. He added, however, that he and colleagues should have room to decide what to do — noting that Hogan chose to delay building the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in Montgomery County. The governor citied cost concerns for the former, and the latter has been delayed by court cases and a prior contractor walking up the job due to labor disputes.
Korman agreed with Balcombe that looking at MARC service should be considered, especially considering Moore might be able to wield power in negotiations with CSX because of his political rank and overall resources.
Hogan’s proposal wouldn’t help upcounty Montgomery County and Frederick County because the first phase stops at I-370, Korman added. But the MARC line to Brunswick is underutilized, and the infrastructure is already there, he said.
Virginia officials just had success in negotiating more rail service last year, Korman said.
“They were able to sit down with two freight railroad companies … [solutions] can involve different capacity projects, the buying and selling for right of way, and other things,” Korman said. “Having a governor involved in those discussions can’t hurt.”
The Maryland Board of Public Works’ next scheduled meeting is Dec. 7.