By William J. Ford
In a show of solidarity, officials from Prince George’s, Montgomery and Frederick counties Monday sent a message to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan: slow down on the proposal to expand Interstates 495 and 270.
Those officials and several Montgomery County residents also said adding toll lanes would be expensive and just add more vehicles on highways in the D.C. region ranked as one of the most congested in the nation.
“Local courtesy did not take place in this project,” said Del. Gabriel Acevero, who represents a portion of Montgomery County in the pathway of highway expansion proposal. “We’re calling on the governor to put the brakes on this.”
Acevero and 14 other state, county and municipal officials spoke at Indian Terrace Spring Park, one of the places possibly affected by a plan that rests several feet near Interstate 495.
The Maryland Board of Public Works, comprised of Gov. Larry Hogan, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot may vote in Annapolis to continue the next step to the public-private partnership process, also known as P3. The current 70-mile proposal seeks to expand the Beltway and Interstate 270 which could cost up to $11 billion.
Acevero joined nearly 60 state lawmakers who sent a letter Monday to the board “to work collaboratively with county stakeholders to consider the range of options to address traffic, beyond those being considered in the current P3 analysis.”
The Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition based in Columbia, Howard County, has an $8 billion proposal for a light-rail network to connect in nine counties and Baltimore City.
At Monday’s press conference in Silver Spring, officials also included several other options to help relief traffic congestion that include the eviction of no residents; dedicated funding for transit; encourage telecommuting and carpooling; and preserves local parks.
A flier also highlights a regional transportation improvement plan to build activity center connections along I-495 in Prince George’s County at National Harbor, Largo near the regional hospital still under construction, New Carrollton and the Greenbelt Metro. Another would be constructed in White Oak in Montgomery County.
Prince George’s County Council approved a resolution last month for the state Board of Public Works to complete an environmental impact statement and ensure there’s an agreement on the proposal from affected counties before Wednesday’s vote.
“There’s a whole spectrum of opinions out there, but that’s a conversation we need to have,” said Prince George’s Council Chairman Todd Turner. “We’ve been able to do that in other contexts. That’s all were really asking. Come with us. Meet with us.”
Hogan has pushed for the plan since first announced in 2017 and public hearings a year later. The governor’s main goal is to decrease traffic and allow a private firm help in the project with limited taxpayer dollars. The 70-mile trek on Interstate 495 from Temple Hills in Prince George’s County to portions of 495 and Interstate 270 in Montgomery County would add toll lanes.
Hogan spokesman Michel Ricci said in an email Monday each phase of the project will come before the public works board. Also, he said, environmental impact studies are currently taking place “concurrently with the P3 process” and the state Department of Transportation has established a transit workgroup of transportation officials from the state, county and federal governments, as well as Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.
“Good news: we are well on our way to doing all of the things that these legislators request,” Ricci said. “We look forward to implementing these ideas as part of our plan to fix the region’s soul-crashing traffic.”
Pete Rahn, the state’s transportation secretary, said in a Feb. 13 letter he supports the current proposal because it provides another alternative to transportation studies assessed for a decade.
“With our funding shortfalls and lack of debt capacity, we must look at new ways to fund and finance improvements to address the National Capital region’s congestion,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.