2020 | Transportation

Maryland issues request for proposals on Beltway widening

Project phases changed to start with bridge

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The Capital Beltway near the I-270 interchange in Bethesda

File photo

Maryland transportation officials are moving forward with plans for its Beltway widening project by issuing a request for proposals to four developers.

The planned managed lanes project along I-495 and I-270 — expected to cost $9 billion to $11 billion — has been met with opposition in the last year from county officials, environmental activists, the U.S. Navy and county residents.

The state is proposing widening I-495 and I-270 to alleviate traffic bottlenecking on the stretch. The project would be done through a public-private partnership (P3), reimbursed by toll revenues.

The project’s roughly 19,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) came under fire by officials and residents for what they called “serious deficiencies.” Public comments on the statement were closed on Nov. 9.

Six alternatives are included in the DEIS, most of which recommend adding two lanes on either side of I-495 and I-270 to accommodate high-occupancy vehicles and those opting to pay tolls.

On Dec. 18, state officials released the RFP without any notice to the public. The deadline for the development consortiums to provide “technical” proposals to the state was three business days later.

According to Maryland Matters, which first reported on the release of the RFP, the documents were not posted on the project’s website until Dec. 23.

Terry Owens, a spokesman for the state project, wrote in an email Wednesday evening that the potential Phase 1 consortiums have been participating in “collaborative reviews of multiple drafts of the RFP” since they were shortlisted in July.

“The preparation of the RFP over nearly six months was a collaborative dialogue with our private sector partners and our teams of experienced expert advisors. … Sharing thoughts and ideas — rather than posting an RFP and having proposers develop submissions with no collaboration — is critical when looking for a long-term partner.”

Owens wrote that the potential partners were aware of the deadline months in advance and have been preparing their proposals for nearly six months.

“The suggestion that they only had three days to respond is inaccurate,” he said.

Maryland Matters noted that the state buried a note in the RFP that if toll lanes are not approved through the National Environmental Policy Act process, the project’s consortium will receive up to $50 million to reimburse its predevelopment costs.

Financial proposals are due on Jan. 8. A Phase 1 developer is expected to be selected by Feb. 1.

The RFP for Phase 1 of the public-private partnership (P3) program would specifically seek to improve “I-495 from the vicinity of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, across and including the American Legion Bridge, to I-270, and I-270 from I-495 to I-70,” according to information state officials posted on the project’s website. “The American Legion Bridge to I-270 and I-270 to I-370 will be delivered first.”

Phase 1 will include 37 miles of highway and be broken into multiple smaller sections to be completed.

Initial work for the project will include preliminary designs to “further avoid and minimize impacts” to environmental resources, communities, properties, and utilities, the website stated.

The Phase 1 P3 agreement and selected phase developer will be submitted to the state Board of Public Works for approval in April or May. A finalized initial proposal for Phase 1 would follow by the fall of 2022.

The proposals of each of the “shortlisted” consortiums will be evaluated based on delivery certainty, minimization of impacts, maximization value to the state, opportunity for MDOT and community benefits, and congestion relief.

The financial proposals will be evaluated for the cost of performing the predevelopment work, profit margins and investment returns in Phase 1, and willingness to offer an upfront payment for the right to develop and deliver Phase 1.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.