A Thursday night information session in Germantown on proposed toll lane expansion of Interstate 270 had fewer fireworks than previous public meetings in lower Montgomery County, but there was still skepticism from upcounty residents and commuters.
Gov. Larry Hogan wants the state to build toll lanes to I-270 and the Beltway using a public-private partnership model. The cost would be upwards of $9 billion, and state transportation officials have said the revenue from the tolls would pay for the construction, and a private company would operate the road for decades.
Roughly 100 people attended the session, hosted by the Maryland Department of Transportation at Seneca Valley High School.
Earlier this month, more than 400 people were on hand for a meeting in Silver Spring to discuss with road plan, where some residents said their concerns have fallen on deaf ears and were worried that properties near the Beltway would be bulldozed. The meeting was coordinated by a County Council member, Tom Hucker.
Thursday night, Stephen Snay, of Germantown, who commutes to his job in Bethesda on I-270, said he is still weighing the benefits of Hogan’s plan, but is willing to give it a chance.
“I’m here to gain information on this whole process, because I really don’t know what’s involved. Traffic is congested,” he said.
Montgomery Village resident Terry O’Grady, however, said she doesn’t believe Hogan’s plan has merit because few drivers would be willing to pay for the tolls.
“Honestly, they built the [Intercounty Connector] and at the last minute the residents found out it was going to be a toll road. How many people actually use that road? It has not alleviated any congestion on that road,” she said, referring to the 18-mile ICC between I-270 in Gaithersburg and I-95 near Laurel.
O’Grady said she commutes to the District of Columbia by driving to Shady Grove in order to use Metro. A more comprehensive transit network upcounty, she said, would be the better alternative.
Similar concerns about the cost of the toll lanes were raised during a question-and-answer session with state officials, with one attendee pointing out that tolls on I-66 in Virginia can be as high as $40 during peak travel times inside the Capital Beltway, and could be viewed as “a regressive tax.”
State Highway Administration Deputy Director Jeff Folden responded by noting that travel times in Virginia had been reduced by up to 15%, and that the majority of toll users pay less to use the lanes than they would to pay for a tank of gas.
One resident, who favored Hogan’s toll plan, said she wishes that the northern portion of I-270 were the first priority, as opposed to widening American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River at Cabin John, which state transportation officials had announced earlier this year.
“None of this really helps us until we get to Gaithersburg,” she said.
Council member Craig Rice, whose district encompasses the upcounty, said that has been the main concern he has heard from his constituents. But he said fixing the Cabin John bridge is a part of the solution.
“Here in the upcounty, we know that we need that relief on 270, and we need to make sure that that choke point at the American Legion Bridge is fixed, and if so, it will mean tremendous differences in quality of life here in the upcounty,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org