Montgomery Leaders Say More Details Needed About Hogan’s Highway Widening Plan
County officials say they didn't get advance notice about plan to add four lanes to Beltway and I-270
The Capital Beltway near the I-270 interchange in Bethesda
Via Wikimedia Commons user Famartin
Updated – 4:45 p.m. – Montgomery County officials continue to wonder how exactly Gov. Larry Hogan plans to add four new toll lanes on I-270 and the Capital Beltway after he surprised them in announcing the proposal Thursday in Gaithersburg.
County Executive Ike Leggett’s spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, said Monday the county did not receive advance notice about the proposal to add the lanes to the two major highways. County Council President Roger Berliner and member George Leventhal also said the county received nothing about the plan before the governor announced it.
Leggett expressed skepticism about the proposal.
“Yes, we welcome the expansion on I-270, and believe the Beltway needs some additional lanes, but we need further analysis to determine how practical four additional lanes will be accommodated without serious negative impacts,” Leggett said in a statement Monday. “There is also a need for further reviews of tolls on the beltway.”
Hogan estimated the plan to add lanes and acquire and expand the Baltimore-Washington Parkway would cost $9 billion. He said the state would partner with a private contractor to build the project and it would be paid for by toll revenue.
State Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn estimated it will take about three months to gather responses from private partners to handle the job and about 18 months before state officials have a project timeline.
Berliner said during a Monday morning press briefing that he agrees the highways need congestion relief, but the governor didn’t announce or vet the proposal in a responsible way.
“While it’s good the governor finally got off the sidelines and into the game,” Berliner said, “it’s like this idea sprung from the mind of Zeus without any collaboration, without any conversation with any of the communities most impacted and most affected.”
Berliner said four new lanes are not needed on I-270 because the roadway is primarily clogged southbound during the morning rush hour and northbound during the afternoon rush. Instead, he continued to advocate for a proposal to add two reversible high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on the highway to deal with the rush hour-related congestion. The two lanes would be for southbound traffic in the morning and northbound traffic in the afternoon.
He noted the council pitched this proposal years ago.
“Paying for four lanes through tolls is going to unnecessarily burden drivers with higher tolls than they’ll otherwise have to pay and also promote sprawl that we do not need,” Berliner said. “Getting it right does matter.”
He said the governor’s office gave the county “no heads up, no communication whatsoever with respect to this massive proposal.”
“I don’t get why the governor would go about his business in that matter,” Berliner said. “This is a huge issue, huge, massive, and we have the greatest stake in it, I think, of almost anybody.”
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an email Monday afternoon that the state is in the early stages of planning the project.
"The governor laid out a bold solution to the congestion that causes hundreds of thousands of Marylanders to waste hours of their lives sitting in traffic every day," Chasse wrote. "Montgomery County leaders have been talking about this problem for years–the governor decided it was time to quit talking and get something done."
She also wrote that the project will "actually generate revenue for the state, potentially billions of dollars."
Chasse noted the state's transportation deparment has issued a request for information from private partners interested in working on the project and will later issue a request for proposals to receive bids. She said the governor will be pushing to move the projects along as quickly as possible.
Berliner wondered how there will even be room to add four lanes to the Beltway, which is tightly hemmed in by residential and commercial development through Bethesda and Silver Spring.
“I can’t imagine that they’re going to take scores of homes, knock down hospitals, go over Rock Creek Park. Really, over Rock Creek Park? You really think this is going to happen? I don’t think so,” Berliner said.
The Beltway runs along Rock Creek in Montgomery County and any roadway expansion within the surrounding park may generate significant environmental controversy. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Holy Cross Hospital both border the highway. State officials have not said where or how the new lanes would fit into the existing the highways.
Berliner added that he thought “it’s just an incredible coincidence” that the project timeline and additional details about the proposal aren’t expected to be revealed until after the November 2018 election, when Hogan will be up for re-election.
“This is way too important a subject to be political campaign fodder,” Berliner said. “Really, we don’t need four lanes. We don’t need people to pay for four lanes.”
Leventhal said Monday that his office is getting a ton of questions about the governor’s proposal and does not know how to answer them.
“There’s just so much we don’t know,” Leventhal said. “We were given zero information before the announcement—no heads up, no consultation. No one knew anything about it. We still don’t know very much.”
He said the proposal to add four lanes on the Beltway in particular likely would have considerable impacts on land use, public transportation and connectivity to county roads and potentially would include the taking of property by eminent domain.
“If you’re going to widen the Beltway, that has gigantic implications and we just don’t know very much,” Leventhal said.