Two Maryland counties take issue with governor’s toll plan
June 14, 2019
The battle over Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s toll plan continues. Recently, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission voted down the idea, raising issues with a lack of mass transit within the plan.
On June 6, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission voted 9 to 1 to not concur with the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration’s “alternatives retained for detailed study.”
The study lays out several options that line up with Gov. Hogan’s proposal to relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 495 and Interstate 270.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is a bi-county agency tasked to acquire, develop, maintain and administer a regional system of parks within Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and to provide land use planning for the physical development of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, according to its website.
According to a June 6 news release issued by the commission, MDOT’s options “narrows the scope of the study so much that reliable conclusions for a complete environmental review cannot not be achieved.”
One issue the commission had is in regards to the segmentation and phasing of the plan.
“Identifying the need and scope of improvements to I-495 is dependent on addressing whether bypass or through traffic can be diverted to I-270 and drawn off of the constrained area of I-495 between I-270 and I-95,” the release states. “The phasing is an important factor because diverting traffic to use the Intercounty Connector (ICC) requires the I-270 phase to be completed first.”
The commission also took issue with the lack of mass transit addressed in the study. Not counting the alternative option of “no action,” all alternatives include either high-occupancy vehicle lanes, express toll lanes, high-occupancy toll lanes or a combination of the three.
However, there’s no mention of transit. The commission explained that “local serving transit and transportation demand management” must be included for any alternatives that are being studied.
The commission is one of several federal, state and local agencies required to give input. Although no single agency’s input has power to derail the project, the commission represents the largest area that could potentially be affected by the plan.
The Federal Highway Administration identified the study limits as I-495 from south of the American Legion Bridge in Fairfax County, Va., to east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Prince George’s County, Md.; and I-270 from I-495 to I-370 in Montgomery County, Md., including the east and west I-270 spurs north of I-495.
Hogan’s plan has received mixed reviews. Although the bi-county commission rejected the alternatives study, a Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted from April 25 to May 2 revealed that more than 60% of those surveyed said they would support Gov. Hogan’s plan to add express lanes.
On the other hand, some Washington, D.C., lawmakers have urged the governor to reconsider toll plans. On April 23, D.C. Councilwoman Brianne K. Nadeau introduced a resolution that opposes the plan. The resolution suggests widening the highways will be counterproductive.
Just one day before the commission’s “no” vote, the Maryland Board of Public Works determined that the plan is eligible for a private-public partnership, making the program the largest highway public-private partnership of its kind in the world, according to the governor’s office. The project is estimated to cost anywhere from $9 billion to $11 billion.