Members of the Montgomery County Council called Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) proposal to expand Interstate 270 a cynical political ploy.
Tuesday’s briefing on the proposals to fix traffic congestion on the two roads gave Council members an opportunity to tee off on the governor for what they call an unrealistic and politically-motivated plan to fix traffic in the region.
Last year, Hogan proposed adding lanes to the highways, to the dismay of County leaders, who argued that it’s an expensive and needless plan that could potentially lead to eminent domain of homes and a hospital. While County Council members worry about the governor’s proposal, it is still in the early stages, meaning no specific plans are close to being settled.
“People certainly have the impression that this is a cynical political exercise that gives the administration the appearance of doing something bold and innovative about beltway traffic in the fourth year of the administration while leaving all the thorny details until after the election,” said Council member Tom Tucker (D-5).
Some County residents are worried that an expansion of lanes to the Beltway and I-270 would mean a loss of homes near the roads – something the governor has denied.
As of now, the plans for expansion are in the early stages. Currently, officials from the State Highway Administration are studying 15 alternative plans for reducing congestion on the two roadways. Some of the state’s proposed alternatives suggest following County recommendation to add reversible lanes. Some offer to build additional toll lanes, as the governor proposed; some offer to do almost nothing.
“It seems really poorly thought out; it seems very political. A nice thing to roll out now, but not really effective,” said Council member Marc Elrich (D-at large).
Glenn Orlin, deputy staff director for the County Council, said that state officials have given little thought to any of the engineering that would be involved in most of the alternative plans.
While talk of eminent domain – the removal of homes and demolishing of hospitals – has some residents worried about the state’s proposal, many County officials are skeptical that the state will follow through on adding lanes, as Hogan proposed.
“Some of those ludicrous options are simply that,” said Council member Nancy Floreen (I-at large).
State Highway officials said they expect to have three or four specific alternative plans ready to present by January or February.
But for many politicians in the state, not doing anything does not seem like a viable option.
The Washington Metropolitan Area ranks among the worst in the nation in traffic congestion, and two of its main arteries, I-270 and I-495, are projected to get worse for commuters as the region expands.
According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, average severe congestion last seven hours a day for I-270 and 10 hours a day on I-495. Those hours of congestion are expected to increase by 15 percent by 2040, if the state does nothing.
For years, traffic congestion has been among the biggest issues plaguing the County, with state and local officials promising solutions that have minimal impact on commuter times for residents.
Last year, Hogan announced a bold plan to add lanes to I-495 and I-270 as well as the Baltimore-Washington Parkway as a solution to the area’s traffic problem.
Hogan’s administration has not often come to loggerheads with the County. Previously members of the County Council and County Executive praised Hogan’s efforts to help make the Purple Line project a reality.