2021 | Transportation

UPDATED: Transurban, Macquarie chosen to develop I-270 toll lanes, bridge improvements

Hucker criticizes proposal as ‘1980s solution’ of highway widening

The Capital Beltway near the I-270 interchange in Bethesda

File photoadhi

This story was updated at 8:09 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2021, to include comments from Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker.

Maryland transportation officials have moved ahead on predevelopment work on toll lanes for I-270 and the American Legion Bridge by selecting a developer for the project.

Accelerate Maryland Partners LLC will oversee the work on the I-270 to I-70 Relief Plan, which will add two high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes across the bridge to I-270, and north on I-270 to I-370.

Accelerate Maryland Partners includes Transurban (USA) Operations Inc. and Macquarie Infrastructure Developments LLC.

The plan, or preferred alternative, will also add a bicycle and pedestrian connection across the bridge, connecting to the C&O Canal.

The HOT lanes would be free for buses and vehicles with three or more people to use.

Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker criticized the decision.

“All of us want congestion relief, but we prefer to follow the advice of our professional transportation planners who have studied the proposal,” Hucker said. “It would unlikely bring traffic relief to the region and violates environmental laws and our master plans. The public has been asking for a more balanced approach that invests in the public transit that people need.”

State transportation officials have disregarded public input and squandered public trust with the project, Hucker said.

The construction will be completed through a public-private partnership, or P3. Local officials and residents have raised concerns because of the failure of the P3 under the Purple Line transit project.

Transurban and Macquarie will be the lead project developer, equity and contractor. Dewberry Engineers and Stantec Consulting Services will be the designers.

Accelerate Maryland Partners’ proposal offered a $145 million Development Rights Payment to the state and a $54.3 million predevelopment cost cap.

“Accelerate Maryland Partners also showed a long-term commitment to the American Legion Bridge I-270 to I-370 project by proposing a higher rate of return on its equity investment in exchange for taking greater construction cost risk upfront, reducing the state’s risk in the project,” the release said.

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) made the announcement of its developer selection in a press release on Thursday.
The choice must be finalized by the MDTA Board and the Maryland Board of Public Works.

The selection is the “culmination of a year-long competitive process of extensive collaborative dialogue with the proposers designed to ensure a true partnership, harness the innovation of the private sector and meet the goals of the program to provide congestion relief and an innovative approach to minimize impacts,” the release said.

The state selected the developer through a comprehensive evaluation process involving transportation officials, industry experts, advisers from Montgomery and Frederick counties and an observer from the Federal Highway Administration, according to the release.

“This is another step forward in addressing one of the most significant traffic bottlenecks in the nation. … Though there is much more work to do with the local leaders, the community and stakeholders, the selected proposal delivers congestion relief at the American Legion Bridge, strong innovative approaches for minimizing impacts and a real multimodal approach,” Greg Slater, the secretary of MDOT, said in the release.

Hucker said in a phone interview Thursday evening that he wasn’t surprised that the state chose Transurban.

“The community felt they had the inside track for a while,” he said.

Hucker said he spoke with Slater on Wednesday about concerns surrounding the project, including the lack of transit options in the preferred alternative and environmental impacts.

“They proposed a 1980s-style solution of just highway widening and not much else. … I really hope the state assembly steps up and protects taxpayers from their proposal before we’re all on the hook for the hundreds of millions of dollars that ratepayers and taxpayers could be paying,” he said, adding that the Board of Public Works should also protect residents.

Hucker said Slater told him that the state would like to work with local leaders and the community to make it a more balanced and effective plan, but it’s unclear how it will do that.

“To be fair to Secretary Slater, Greg inherited this plan from his predecessor who left town,” Hucker said. “So I think he’s trying to right-size the plan and move forward with this Phase 1 that there’s less objection to than people have to expanding the northern part of the Beltway and the Prince George’s part of the Beltway.

“But there are a lot of questions about whether you can really do that given that it’s all part of one project.”

Hucker said it’s unclear if federal law even allows for the state to proceed with one part of the project without granting approval for the entire project. Slater is looking into the question, Hucker said.

State transportation officials have not been collaborative or communicative in dealing with local governments as partners on the project, Hucker said.

“He knows how unpopular the project is and wants to try to achieve more comfort from all these officials in Montgomery County who have expressed concerns about the project repeatedly,” Hucker said. “Right now, he is still imposing this grandiose, wildly ambitious project over the objections of the officials of Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.”

Slater said experts reviewed the proposals for the Phase 1 partnership and deliberated about them for a total of nearly 200 hours .

According to the release, the group’s proposal also includes:
● An estimated $300 million for transit improvements for Phase 1 South in Montgomery County
● $50 million in community grants
● $5 million for Vision Zero
● $25 million to support emerging technologies through an innovation alliance
● A no-interest loan program for local fleet conversions
● Water-quality enhancements
● Partnerships with small, disadvantaged, women – and veteran-owned businesses
● Union and local contractor involvement
● Engagement with local community organizations and educational institutions

In the release, state officials said Accelerate Maryland Partners had a strong proposal that demonstrated a “strong understanding of the project and offered well thought-out approaches to manage and mitigate project risks. Their proposal also identifies detailed solutions to further reduce property impacts, reduce potential utility conflicts and promote environmental stewardship.”

The proposal also provided the “best value to the state,” the release said. Each of the three proposals was given points, with up to 1,791 possible points.

Accelerate Maryland Partners received 1,356 points, while Accelerate Maryland Express Partners received 800 and Capital Express Mobility Partners received 665.

Criteria for the points included:
● Equity internal rate of return
● Developer closing costs
● Development rights payment
● Predevelopment work costs
● Contractor general conditions, costs and markup

In Thursday’s release, state officials said they are continuing to collaborate with federal, state and county partner agencies on “reaching concurrence on a recommended preferred alternative.”

Meanwhile, state officials are still working on the Managed Lanes Study and plan to have a Record of Decision in the fall, which will be followed by MDOT taking the Section P3 Agreement to the Board of Public Works for final approval.

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