State, Local Leaders Offer Alternative to Governor’s Traffic Relief Plan

State and local elected officials today held a press conference to discuss alternatives to Governor Larry Hogan’s Traffic Relief Plan. The ambitious $11 billion project aims to relieve Maryland’s traffic congestion woes by enlisting a private company to build and manage toll lanes on the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270.

The Hogan administration says the plan will provide residents with much-needed traffic congestion relief without having to pay for it with taxpayer dollars. Officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) say the revenue from the tolls would pay for the construction, and a private company would operate the road for decades, eventually turning a profit.

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The Maryland Department of Transportation’s Traffic Relief Plan

In addition to questioning its fiscal viability, critics claim the project would require the removal of at least 34 homes, require land to be taken from at least 1,500 properties, and would adversely impact thousands of acres of trees and parkland. They say it is premature to approve the project before an environmental impact statement can assess how it would affect the air, water, climate, and public health.

The Board of Public Works — populated by Governor Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Treasurer Nancy Kopp — will vote whether to move the project forward at Wednesday’s meeting by approving the proposed competitive solicitation for selecting a private party developer for the Program.

But state and local officials from two of the three jurisdictions most directly affected by the plan, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, today called on the Board of Public Works to reject the proposal and instead work with county stakeholders to consider the range of options to address traffic congestion, beyond those being considered in the MDOT proposal. (Frederick County has not taken a position on the Traffic Relief Plan).

Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro urged Governor Hogan to “take a step back and evaluate these alternatives that we are putting forward that will provide a much better path forward.” Navarro called on the State to explore proposals that include multi-modal transportation options and lessen environmental impacts.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said he wants to work with Governor Hogan to develop solutions to combat traffic gridlock in the region, but criticized the Traffic Relief Plan for lacking community input. “If you want to help us, talk to us,” Elrich said.

In a letter to the Board of Public Works, Prince George’s County Council Chair Todd Turner said the administration’s proposal “lacks sufficient safeguards to protect the state and our residents to be approved at this time.”

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Regional Transportation Improvement plan (courtesy of Montgomery County Government).

State and local leaders endorsed an alternative traffic relief congestion plan, which includes managed reversible lanes between Montgomery and Frederick Counties, managed lanes through Prince George’s County to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, and the widening of the American Legion Bridge. The plan also includes park & ride improvements and more local-serving transit options.

Maryland’s Board of Public Works reviews projects, contracts, and expenditure plans for state agencies – many of which have an effect on county governments. It meets on alternating Wednesdays and the meetings are open to the public.

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 5, 2019, at 10 am in the Governor’s Reception Room on the 2nd floor of the State House in Annapolis. The meeting agenda is available online.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.