2018 | Transportation

Elrich Suggests Hogan Focus on Improving American Legion Bridge Instead of Adding Toll Lanes to Beltway, I-270

County executive doubles down on his inaugural pledge to oppose the governor’s project

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Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich thinks he has a better solution to relieving congestion on the the county’s busy Interstates 495 and 270 than adding toll lanes: widen the American Legion Bridge on the Beltway over the Potomac River at Cabin John.

Elrich made the comment Thursday morning at the Committee for Montgomery’s annual legislative breakfast where the county’s elected leaders discussed priorities for the upcoming state legislative session.

Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled a $9 billion plan in 2017 to add two toll lanes in each direction on I-270 from Frederick to the Beltway and on the Maryland portion of the Capital Beltway. Hogan’s plan would be funded through public-private partnerships with businesses, and tolls.

Elrich called Hogan’s idea a “solution from the 20th century.”

“You can’t talk about global warming and then say I’m gonna make my roads bigger and bigger and bigger. [Hogan should] see what happens when you go across that [American Legion] bridge, and then work backwards to solve the backups that remain. Don’t start at the back of the line.”

It wasn’t the first time Elrich attacked Hogan’s proposal, including a “note to the governor: no Beltway widening,” line in his Dec. 3 inaugural address. The county executive, in addition to asking for an improvement of the American Legion Bridge, has said expanding bus rapid transit on the I-270 corridor and adding two reversible lanes on that road would be more sensible.

Del. Anne Kaiser, a Democrat who represents Burtonsville and Calverton, said Hogan’s road project was formulated without the input of Montgomery County officials.

“We definitely need solutions, but to come with this big solution, not having talked with the county executive and our experts here … I felt like the governor’s plan was a campaign promise,” she said.

Elrich’s idea of improving the American Legion Bridge, Kaiser said, is a “much cheaper and more elegant solution to the challenges we have.”

Virginia has added toll lanes on portions of the Capital Beltway between McLean and Springfield.

Although the legislature currently has no authority to stop the project, Del. Al Carr, a Kensington Democrat, said he plans to introduce a bill in the session that would require the Montgomery County Council to approve any state road project in the county.

The I-270 portion of Hogan’s proposal has raised fears that any expansion of the road beyond the right-of-way could result in the taking of residential properties under eminent domain. Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn assured a crowd of residents who packed the Montgomery County Council chambers Oct. 11 at a public information session that no homes would be razed during the I-270 construction.

Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Democrat who represents the affected communities of Rockville and Gaithersburg, said in an interview Thursday that she too saw Hogan’s proposal as an “election year ploy” to win votes from Montgomery and Frederick counties, but it instead alarmed residents who live near the interstate.

“They [state transportation officials] did not talk to local legislators or have local hearings. The hearings totally ducked the area that’s gonna be directly affected, which was disrespectful, or strategic or cowardly. I’m not sure which adjective to use,” she said.

The 90-day General Assembly session opens Jan. 9.

Hogan’s spokeswoman Amelia Chasse wrote in an email Thursday that Elrich’s proposal was already part of Hogan’s statewide traffic relief plan.

“It’s great to hear that County Executive Elrich supports the state’s efforts to relieve congestion on the American Legion Bridge as part of the administration’s Traffic Relief Plan. In fact, the first phase of the proposed P3 project includes working with Virginia to connect to their Express Toll Lanes and reconstruct or rehabilitate the American Legion Bridge, so we can extend additional lanes across I-495 on the Maryland side,” she wrote.

This story was updated at 5:15 p.m. to include a response from the governor’s office

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com