Gov. Larry Hogan believes he can help the thousands of commuters who slog through rush hour traffic each day on Montgomery County’s I-270 highway.
The governor said Monday the state would spend $229.6 million on road improvements for the highway, with $129.6 million going toward a new interchange at Watkins Mill Road. The other $100 million would be awarded to the private company that comes up with the best proposal for reducing congestion on the road. State Transportation Secretary Peter Rahn said Monday the idea is to harness the creativity of the private sector to come up with a solution that’s less expensive and quicker to implement than traditional state road projects.
The governor made the announcement while standing in sweltering heat at the Park Potomac development as cars zipped by on I-270 behind him. The governor first announced his intention to fund the I-270 road projects in June 2015.
Hogan said the highway isn’t able to handle more than 250,000 commuters who use it each week day.
“Any Marylander who has driven this route would quickly tell you that it’s sometimes a traffic nightmare,” Hogan said.
Rahn said the $100 million congestion relief project is unique for a state agency in that it’s enabling a private company to propose a solution not developed by the state’s transportation department. “The state is going to assume the risk of doing something new,” Rahn said.
He hopes the private sector can come up with a feasible solution that can lead to construction starting in the next 18 to 24 months. Project proposals from qualified contractors are due by January 2017, and the state plans to select a winner in February and enable the winning contractor to begin designing and building its project in the spring.
Rahn said after Hogan’s press conference that he hopes companies will be willing to take risks on the project—and possibly even lose money—so that they can invest in an innovate road repair policy model that could lead to future projects. He said the solicitation for proposals differed from that of the Purple Line Project, in which private partners are designing the transit line as well as building and then operating it, because the state provided project specifications to private teams who bid on the light-rail project. The I-270 project is a blank slate, in comparison, because the state is not putting restraints on what private teams can propose, he said.
Hogan said the Watkins Mill interchange project would reduce congestion at the nearby Montgomery Village Avenue interchange and the intersection of North Frederick Avenue and Montgomery Village Avenue in Gaithersburg.
Gaithersburg officials, including Mayor Jud Ashman, released a statement in February calling the Watkins Mill interchange the “highest priority for Gaithersburg as vital economic development and infrastructure improvement needs depend on its full implementation.”
County Executive Ike Leggett Monday said the interchange and proposed congestion relief projects would help the county’s biotech corridor in and around Gaithersburg grow.
“What we have here today are real solutions that will help us increase capacity and relieve some of the congestion we have,” Leggett said.
The state plans to begin construction on the interchange next summer and expects to open it for traffic in the summer of 2020.