Officials in Montgomery County Welcome State’s Plan To Study Beltway-Widening Alternative

Officials in Montgomery County Welcome State’s Plan To Study Beltway-Widening Alternative

State will consider idea that diverts traffic onto ICC

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Maryland transportation officials announced Wednesday that they plan to study an alternative to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) proposal of adding toll lanes on Interstate 270 and the Beltway. The plan, favored by Montgomery officials, avoids widening the portion of the Beltway between the I-270 interchange in Bethesda and the Interstate 95 interchange in Prince George’s County.

According to a press release the Montgomery County Department of Transportation sent Friday, state transportation officials voted Wednesday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board to study an alternative that does not involve widening the Montgomery County portion of the Beltway.

The transportation planning board meets monthly and consists of representatives from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

“The new alternative to be studied includes managed lanes, reversible lanes, active traffic management techniques, spot improvements, expansion of park & ride facilities and dedicates some toll revenues to already planned transit projects,” the press release stated.

As first reported by WTOP, the concept  would involve extending express toll lanes on the Virginia portion of the Beltway across the American Legion Bridge and extend as far as the interchange with the Intercounty Connector (ICC) in Gaithersburg.

Traffic would then be diverted onto the ICC, where drivers would use the toll road to access Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County, then travel south to access the Beltway and continue east, bypassing the Beltway’s congested Montgomery County stretch.

The plan would include improvements to MARC commuter rail service, bus rapid transit and reversible lanes on the portion of I-270 between Frederick and Montgomery counties.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Earl Lewis told WTOP the department will review the proposal over the next few weeks and talk with elected officials about the idea next month.

Nearly two years ago, Hogan unveiled his administration’s plans to add toll lanes on I-270 and the Beltway as a way to relieve traffic congestion.

The project is estimated to cost at least $9 billion and use a public-private partnership model in which the state would contract with private companies to build the lanes. Toll revenue would pay for the debt incurred by the construction costs.

County Council member Tom Hucker said in an interview Friday afternoon that the alternative being proposed by the state is the same as the one his office had proposed in June. He said he met a few weeks ago with Hogan’s staff and state Sen. Nancy King, a Montgomery Village Democrat, to discuss the idea.

“We talked a lot about what had gone wrong with the process with the original [toll lane] proposal and why there was so much opposition from officials in three counties [Montgomery, Frederick and Prince Georges],” he said.

Hucker said the governor’s office contacted him and told him Hogan had met with Maryland Department of Transportation officials about the idea. The state, he said, has asked the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology Laboratory to conduct the analysis.

“I’m eager to hear more details on their plans for that and I really hope that’s a genuinely collaborative process. But yeah, I’m certainly grateful. We know that our plan grows economic development and protects the environment and reduces congestion,” he said.

County Council member Hans Riemer said Thursday morning that the study is “welcome.”

“We appreciate that they’re willing to study that alternative and hope that it shows that there is a better way to go,” he said.

Del. Marc Korman, a Bethesda Democrat, wrote in an email Thursday morning that he welcomed the state “finally acknowledging constructive criticism and the fact that other ideas are now on the table.”

We will see if this is a temporary deviation from Secretary Rahn’s ‘my highway or no way’ approach or a real change in their attitude. There is a long way to go,” he wrote.

Barry Hudson, a spokesman for County Executive Marc Elrich’s, said in an interview Friday afternoon the county executive thinks that it is a good sign the state is considering Montgomery County’s plan, and Elrich thinks that Hogan is interested in solving the problem of traffic congestion.

Elrich said in June that he thought that better use of the ICC could be an alternative to adding toll lanes on the Montgomery portion of the Beltway.

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

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