SILVER SPRING – A proposed agreement has been reached to enable the road widening of Interstates 495 and 270 to get back on track. It calls for delaying work on a section of 495 and will not include the taking of any property before final approval of the entire plan.
The proposal had been at a standstill by the three-member Board of Public Works (BPW) last month when voting member Comptroller Peter Franchot withdrew his support until he believed the governments of the areas affected were on board.
On Jan. 3, Franchot announced he had reached an agreement with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, noting that “As a result of our agreement, no private properties will be acquired by the State of Maryland for this project without final approval of a P3 (public-private partnership) agreement by the Board of Public Works.”
That board met and voted (2-1) on the revised plan on Jan. 8.
According to the proposed revisions, the project’s first phase will involve the American Legion Bridge and the segment of road that runs from Interstates 270 to 370, Franchot noted.
It will not include the part of the Capital Beltway between I-270 and I-95. Plans for that stretch are to be discussed later.
The revised plans also included increased funding for public transportation. Lastly, the final plans approved by the board include adding toll lanes on the beltway and I-270.
Franchot praised the changes, noting the plan now enables state and local governments to work together to mitigate community and environmental concerns.
“I believe this is the way that government should work,” he said.
“No one will be required to pay any tolls, all exiting lanes will remain free, and billions of dollars in road improvements will be made will be made without any new taxes,” Hogan wrote in a press release.
“This marks a monumental achievement for our region,” he wrote.
County Executive Marc Elrich declared himself “happy” with the new plan as he mingled with educators at the Montgomery County Education Association’s annual legislative reception Jan. 3.
Now, Elrich said, there will be a new bridge with a sign that suggests drivers could take the Intercounty Connector (ICC) and not only i-495 to get to I-95.
“This is big,” Elrich said.
But Maryland Del. David Moon (D-20) was not as upbeat.
While pleased that the revised plans “are taking out some of the contested sections” and money is designated for public transportation, he considered the revisions “half a loaf.”
He called the proposed changes just “a smaller part of what Hogan wanted” and still did not include the county’s desire for reversible lanes at certain times of the day along Route 270.
“I’m not thrilled,” Moon said.
State Del. Jared Solomon (D-18) called it “definitely an improvement,” but felt the proposed revisions were “still fundamentally flawed.”
He was particularly pleased that plans for 495 would be brought before the BPW at a later date but questioned how Hogan could be satisfied with the proposed revisions when the state “has said all along” that the entire project must run from 495 to 270 to relieve congestion.
Solomon said it was great that properties will be protected, and there will be “somewhat of an infusion” of dollars for public transportation.
Still, he said, it didn’t change the original basic plans enough.
In a Facebook post, Del. Marc Korman (D-16) praised the proposed plans that he said showed that the state listened to Montgomery County.
“There are several questions and issues that remain from whether it makes sense to add two new lanes in each direction on I-270 where we last expanded that road to the economics and risks of the P3 contract and more,” he posted.
Councilman Vice President Tom Hucker also posted his thoughts on Facebook.
“It’s truly remarkable that our unfunded grassroots organizing effort has forced Gov. Hogan to dramatically shrink his signature highway-widening proposal and adopt the balanced ICC Diversion Alternative we put on the table six months ago – one that 1) avoids Beltway widening and the taking of homes and dozens of acres of Rock Creek, Sligo Creek, and Northwest Branch Parks, improves 270 and the Legion Bridge and 2) for the first time, dedicates tens of millions of dollars to transit improvements.”
Hucker added, “We have more work ahead, but kudos to all of you who came out in the rain (twice) and signed our petition! It shows once again that organized people really can defeat organized money.”
Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, which has fought against the state plans, reiterated its opposition in a press release.
“The latest version of Governor Hogan’s Lexus Lane plan makes it clearer than ever that the purpose of this scheme is to monetize traffic congestion, not to relieve it,” the activist organization noted.
The group questioned Hogan’s change of words, noting the governor initially said the toll lanes would be built at no cost to taxpayers, but now said the toll lanes would be built without any new taxes.
“The only thing this project will do is put money in the hands of foreign investors,” said Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition chair Ben Ross.