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ROCKVILLE – A Maryland House of Delegates committee is considering a bill that would give county governments the option to vote down a state-proposed, toll-road project.
Delegate Brooke E. Lierman (D-46), who represents Baltimore City, said during an Environment and Transportation Committee bill hearing on Feb. 7 introducing House Bill 102 that she believes counties should have the ability to veto projects that involve adding toll roads.
“I think we have to be really careful of building new toll roads, and…having local governments buy in means that we are being really thoughtful about when a (new) toll road is the appropriate mechanism,” Lierman said.
However, the State Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn disagreed with Lierman.
“I believe that House Bill 102 is needless,” Rahn said.
The bill would amend an existing law that currently applies to counties on the Eastern Shore, and would require county government consent for construction of toll roads, toll highways and toll bridges throughout Maryland.
Rahn said he does not support the bill, believing it would be inappropriate to put the authority of approving toll roads – which now rest with the state government – in counties’ hands, especially with interstate highways such as I-270.
In September 2017, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) proposed three separate projects totaling $9 billion to widen Interstates 270 and 495 and State Route 295, with the goal of easing traffic congestion. He proposed the state will complete those projects through public-private partnerships and that the new lanes require tolls.
The Montgomery County delegation met Hogan’s proposal with scrutiny.
Having a say on toll lanes on interstate highways would also mean giving county governments a say over projects in other jurisdictions that the interstate highways would cross, such as the District of Columbia, Rahn said.
Delegate Sara Love (D-16), a freshman who represents Montgomery County, asked Rahn if it would still be problematic for the state if the jurisdictions had the power but ended up agreeing with the transportation department to accept a toll road project after all. Rahn said the added procedures would cause delays, which would cost the state money.
“There’s a reason to do this in an expeditious way, and I have faith in the NEPA process – that the federal government is going to require us to be engaged with citizens that are along the corridors (in the region),” said Rahn during the hearing.
The NEPA, or National Environmental Policy Act, requires states to investigate how projects would impact the surrounding environment.
Samuel Jordan, president of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, said that adding a toll road would cause a greater divide between workers of different income levels, because a “public good” would be offered only to people who could afford to pay the toll.
“Support HB 102; no toll lane highways in counties that reject them,” Jordan added.
Brian O’Malley, president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, also said he supported the bill, because adding toll roads would mean that lower-income workers would have access to fewer job opportunities than higher-income workers. He believes that counties’ input is important to the decisions to add toll roads.
Meanwhile, Greenbelt Mayor Emmett Jordan said he supported the bill – if it could be amended to require the counties to consult municipalities before saying “yes” to a toll road or toll highway.
“Local jurisdictions – we need to be at the table so that our local needs aren’t pre-empted. A majority of the affected county’s should have the right to approve toll-road projects on interstates and parkways, but input from affected municipalities should be communicated to the counties before counties consent on toll roads or toll highways in these counties,” Jordan said.
Twelve members of the Montgomery County delegation are co-sponsoring the House bill, including delegates Gabriel Acevero (D-39), Lorig Charkoudian (D-20), Ariana Kelly (D-16), Marc Korman (D-16), Sara Love (D-16), Eric Luedtke (D-14), David Moon (D-20), Julie Palakovich Carr (D-17), Kirill Reznik (D-39), Emily Shetty (D-18), Jared Solomon (D-18) and Jheanelle Wilkins (D-18).