Montgomery, Prince George’s Leaders Push for Transit Alternatives to Toll Lane Project
59 lawmakers from state’s largest legislative delegations call for delay in contract awards
County Executive Marc Elrich
More than a dozen lawmakers from Maryland’s two largest counties gathered in Silver Spring Monday to demand that the three-member state Board of Public Works reject Gov. Larry Hogan’s plans for widening Interstate 270 and the Beltway to include toll lanes.
“I didn’t spend a dozen years planning and working on a bus rapid transit network in Montgomery County because I wanted to see this place more congested,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich during a news conference.
Hogan’s proposal carries an estimated price tag of more than $9 billion and uses a public-private partnership model where private companies would construct and maintain toll lanes and be reimbursed from the state through toll revenue.
The public works board, which consists of Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, is set to vote Wednesday on whether to green light the so-called P3 partnership and the selection process for contractors interested in submitting bids.
The showing of solidarity in opposing the plan from Montgomery and Prince George’s county leaders was followed Monday by a letter signed by 59 state lawmakers from both counties asking the board to delay approval of the project until an environmental impact statement is completed, and for county lawmakers to pursue alternative methods to relieve congestion that don’t involve taking property.
Previous studies have estimated that as many as 34 homes could be taken under eminent domain.
Elrich noted that he had written to the governor in the fall, asking for the state to instead pursue two reversible lanes by converting the shoulder lane on each side into a high-occupancy, or HOV, lane.
“I said, governor you could get a lane tomorrow if you want it. As I was driving up I-270 last night, guess what they had done? They had taken out the inside service lane as you had gotten off the spur. There is a way to move forward,” he said. “We’re saying do it sensibly, and don’t blow the bank.”
Council member Tom Hucker’s office released an alternative map of proposed alternatives to Hogan’s plan, which includes widening the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River, and I-270 between the Beltway interchange and Gaithersburg. The map also includes reversible lanes between Gaithersburg and Frederick, and improvements to the MARC commuter train line, which runs parallel to the I-270 corridor.
Several elected officials at the news conference expressed support for a monorail between Shady Grove and Frederick, citing a recent study done by Montgomery developer Robert Eisinger, which estimated that such a train could cut commuting times to a half-hour between the two points.
Council member Sidney Katz, whose district includes I-270, said the state needs a “multimodel” transportation solution.
“And there’s things the state has not looked at. They have not looked at this idea of monorail. It’s intriguing. If it happens, it could be a public-private partnership. It can happen fairly quickly because it’s pretty fab and they can hook it together quickly and it can go higher and lower and get over bridges… it gets a good percentage [of cars] off the road,” Katz said.
Soon after the news conference ended, Hogan’s office sent a media release that cited a poll reported by The Washington Post that more than 60% of residents in the Washington area support the toll lane proposal.
The release also noted that Hogan has invested $14.2 billion over six years for operating and capital expenses of Metro and the Maryland Transit Administration.
Later Monday, Michael Ricci, a spokesman for the governor, wrote in a press release that the state was already in the process of conducting a federally required environmental review, a transit working group had been established, each phase of the project would come before the board of public works separately and the state was “incentivizing” potential developers that would not take property.
“Good news: we are well on our way to doing all of the things that these legislators request. We look forward to implementing these ideas as part of our plan to fix the region’s soul-crashing traffic,” he wrote.
Absent from those who signed the letter Monday was Sen. Nancy King, a Democrat whose district includes Montgomery Village, and much of the upcounty stretch of I-270. King has previously said she wants to move forward on the I-270 widening.
In response to a question about King’s absence from the letter, Del. Jared Solomon, a Chevy Chase Democrat, said King has been “a great ally” but that Hogan’s plan would not bring relief to her district for 10 years.
“None of us are in support of traffic. What we want are solutions,” he said.
Del. Gabe Acevero, a Democrat who represents the same district as King, echoed those sentiments.
“We want an alleviation to traffic congestion,” he said.
It is unclear how Kopp will vote on contract matters at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, her assistant Megan Schutz said Monday, but she is “aware of the letter” sent by the bi-county delegation.
Susan O’Brien, a spokeswoman from Franchot’s office, said the comptroller has not yet decided how he will vote.
“He’s still meeting with people and he’ll ask questions on Wednesday,” she said.
Elrich said he has discussed Hogan’s proposal with Kopp and hopes to meet with Franchot prior to Wednesday’s vote. He expects that environmental groups will sue the state if the board votes “yes” on Wednesday.
“It could very easily wind up in court. People are talking about a [law]suit,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org