ROCKVILLE – Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is preliminarily considering a proposed alternative to the widening of interstate highways 495 and 270 plan to relieve traffic congestion.
Maryland Deputy Transportation Secretary R. Earl Lewis, Jr., a member of the Metropolitan Region Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, told the TPB on July 24 that the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) is considering a Montgomery County government-proposed alternative to widening I-270 and I-495, (also known as the Capital Beltway). MDOT’s consideration of the county’s alternative was first reported by Maryland Matters.
County Executive Marc Elrich wrote a letter dated July 11 to TPB Chairman Martin Nohe on behalf of the county, asking the TPB to evaluate an alternative plan developed by the county.
“Montgomery County believes a different configuration for this project (MDOT’s I-270/495 Traffic Relief Plan) is needed to minimize community disruption, to support multimodal transportation, and to leverage transportation demand management,” Elrich wrote in the July 11 letter.
County elected officials first announced the proposed alternative in June.
MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn wrote in a July 31 letter to Nohe, saying he was glad that Elrich agreed that toll lanes may be part of a solution to traffic congestion in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
“I am pleased to see that the County Executive (Elrich) has recognized the need for a price-managed lane network as an essential means for delivering congestion relief to hundreds of thousands of people and commercial vehicles across Maryland, the National Capital Region and along the national freight network who use I-495 and I-270 every day,” Rahn wrote. “The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) is committed to an approach that delivers maximum results while leveraging our existing and planned multimodal transportation investments in the region.”
MDOT is conducting a study for the planned widening of sections of the two interstate highways that Rahn and other state officials have called “the I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study.” Rahn wrote MDOT will assess the county’s proposed plan as an alternative to the I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study by following a process explained in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) said on Aug. 1 that consideration of the proposed alternative marks the first time in the congestion relief project that Hogan has listened to or is considering something proposed by county residents.
“For the last two years the governor has not accepted any community input from residents of Montgomery County, but I’m glad he’s now starting to listen and be accepting of alternative strategies to meet our transportation needs,” Glass said.
Rahn, however, said otherwise. He wrote that the Hogan administration had sought “public and other stakeholder input” on the plan and that MDOT has participated in dozens of meetings with elected officials and community town halls. The state highway administration also gave three sets of public workshops about the study, he added.
Rahn wrote that MDOT will use a series of tests to assess the plan, and that, for the present, it will consider how sensible the alternative proposed by county government is.
“To be clear, the purpose of this additional analysis is to determine whether the proposal meets the agreed-upon Study Purpose and need and warrants further detailed study,” wrote Rahn.
Back in 2017, Hogan announced a plan to fix traffic congestion in the D.C. metropolitan area by adding extra lanes to I-495 and I-270 through a private-public partnership (P3). Drivers using the new lanes would be charged a toll to help pay for the cost of construction.
The proposed widening of I-270 and I-495 sparked backlash by dozens of county residents during the past couple of years because the expansion would force some residents to leave their homes.