2018 | Government

Toll Road Bill Gets Mixed Reviews at Public Hearing

Proposal would require state to get County Council approval for road projects

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Brad German of the Citizens Against Beltway Expansion testifies in favor of the bill prohibiting state agencies from constructing toll roads without county approval at Monday's Montgomery County Delegation bill hearing.

By Charlie Wright

No bill proposal discussed during a Monday night marathon public hearing by Montgomery County representatives to the state legislature drew a greater response than MC 8-19, which would prohibit state agencies from constructing toll roads in the county without the Council Council’s OK.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced a proposal in August 2017 for a $9 billion project that would include adding toll lanes to the Beltway and Interstate 270. The plan would cover more than 100 miles of highways in the region and is intended to decrease gridlock.

Four toll lanes would be added from Frederick to the Beltway, along with two more on the Maryland portion of Interstate 495.

The bill was requested by three delegates and four delegate-elects, led by Del. Al Carr, a District 18 Democrat.

“This bill would require the consent of the Montgomery County government before the state could construct a new toll road,” Carr said. “The bill was a response to constituents’ concerns about the governor’s fast-tracked plan to widen the Capital Beltway using private toll lanes.”

At the hearing, nearly two dozen residents and community leaders testified, with primary concerns from those in support focused on expenses and eminent domain situations where the government can seize private property for public projects.

“The process the Maryland Department of Transportation is pursuing to advance this plan is also contrary to the interests of the county,” said Brad German of the Citizens Against Beltway Expansion. “It is a process that is opaque and rushed.”

The common counter to doubt about the usefulness of the proposed toll roads was its potential to decrease traffic, an issue that many who spoke addressed.

“The bill is a direct affront to residents of the upcounty who have been repeatedly cheated out of road solutions that they support,” said Jennifer Russel of the Fix I-270 Coalition.

Susan Swift of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance said Hogan and Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn have publicly committed to avoid taking homes for construction of the toll roads, though her assertions about the governor’s intentions were challenged by Del. Kirill Reznick.

Reznick pointed out that the project’s initial cost announcement and specifics about the toll roads itself have already been retracted or altered by Hogan. Swift responded any official would have to go through the federal process for approval on any changes.

“Thank you for confirming that anything Governor Hogan says should be taken with a grain of salt,” Reznick said.