There is at least one member of Montgomery County’s 32-member delegation in the Maryland General Assembly who is bullish on Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to expand Interstate 270 and the Beltway — Sen. Nancy King.
Since Hogan announced his $9 billion plan to add toll lanes on the two highway in 2017, a throng of Montgomery County public official have expressed opposition, using words such as “transparency” and “oversight” that are needed to ensure that the project does no harm to the environment and avoids the taking of property under eminent domain.
They have also scolded the Republican governor and his administration for not considering public transit alternatives to the toll lanes.
Additionally, County Executive Marc Elrich made a point of sending a message to Hogan that there would be “no Beltway widening,” and members of the County Council expressed concern at a hearing with Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn last month, in which he said there wasn’t enough traffic on the northern portion of I-270 for toll revenue alone to fund the project.
A House bill sponsored by Del. Jared Solomon (D-Chevy Chase) would have required an environmental review prior to the project, which uses a public-private partnership model to employ construction contractors.
Solomon’s bill was ultimately killed in the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee, chaired by King.
“If we passed that bill, from what I heard from the transportation people, it would be two or three years before we had any relief on 270. I don’t believe in waiting that long for relief on 270. We’ve got to make some decisions and move on,” she said. “Nobody makes any decisions completely on their own, but it was kind of a joint conversations among us to hold onto that bill.”
King, a Montgomery Village Democrat, represents a district that includes much of the northern part of the county, bisected by I-270. She said traffic relief between Montgomery and Frederick counties is badly needed, and that she receives emails just as often from residents who favor the project as she does from environmental activists who are opposed to it. The key, she said, is striking the balance between oversight and cooperation with state officials.
“We’ve got to be working with the Department of Transportation, but they told me they’re going to work with the County Council, and I think we need to hold their feet to the fire and insist they do work with us,” she said.
The majority of Montgomery officials have said they agree that the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River needs to be improved, but there isn’t much consensus beyond that.
Elrich has said he doesn’t believe it is realistic to widen the Beltway east of the spur with I-270 due to the presence of two rail overpasses, several road overpasses and the close proximity to Holy Cross Hospital and several neighborhoods. Rahn has floated the idea of creating a double-decker highway, similar to Interstate 635 in Dallas.
Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, a Democrat who represents Kensington, said earlier this week that he believes there needs to be a “unified strategy” among members of the delegation to oppose the Beltway expansion.
“The right-of-way is so narrow,” said Waldstreicher, whose district includes the Montgomery portion of the Beltway.
King said she shares the concerns about building outside the right-of-way, but she wants a solution to the Beltway congestion.
“Something has to be done with 495. We just have to make sure what is done is the right solution,” she said.
King said she doesn’t believe she’s alone in her positive outlook toward Hogan’s plan.
“I’m not naming names at this point,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org