Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday afternoon that he and Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) plan to approve the next step of the much-debated proposal to add toll lanes to interstates 270 and 495.
Hogan’s office issued a statement on Friday afternoon that he and Franchot reached a “major bipartisan agreement” to approve the plan at the state Board of Public Works meeting on Wednesday. Hogan is a Republican; Franchot is a Democrat.
The proposal, which was pulled from the board’s agenda in December, had been held up because of concerns Franchot raised about board members needing more time to consider its merits.
Franchot’s chief of staff, Len Foxwell, said in an interview Friday afternoon that the comptroller and the governor have been discussing the proposal for the past month.
“Both the governor and the comptroller have been searching for a way to reset the conversation,” he said. “In this case, the comptroller strongly believes that a better process has come to a better outcome.”
The Board of Public Works is made up of Hogan, Franchot and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D). Hogan agreed last month to delay a vote on the proposal after Franchot wrote on Facebook that board members needed more time to consider the plan.
“With this plan, no one will be required to pay any tolls, all existing lanes will remain free, and billions of dollars in road improvements will be made without any new taxes,” Hogan said in the statement.
According to the board’s agenda for Wednesday, the project will begin with the section of the Capital Beltway between the American Legion Bridge to its interchange with I-270, and I-270 to its interchange with I-370 in Gaithersburg.
This first phase includes the “Capital Beltway Accord” that Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced in November, with both states agreeing to fund the cost of adding four new express toll lanes to the bridge over the Potomac River. Construction could begin in May 2021, following the awarding of contracts to concessionaires who will build the toll lanes.
Other elements of the project, which include widening I-270 in northern Montgomery and Frederick counties, and the Beltway east of I-270 are not included in the governor’s latest proposal, but could occur later, the agenda packet says.
Hogan and Franchot’s latest proposal slightly amends a previous vote that the board took in June that delayed the American Legion Bridge widening. It also differs from a proposal the board considered last month that would have reprioritized the portion of the Beltway between I-270 and I-95. Hogan agreed to postpone voting on that proposal at Franchot’s request.
The latest proposal would include a commitment to commit 10% of toll revenue toward regional transit agencies in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and to conduct a feasibility study for a monorail. The latest proposal will also allow public transit buses to use the new toll lanes for free.
Since Hogan announced the initial toll lane proposal, county residents have held numerous town hall meetings opposing the plan, in part due to concerns that widening I-270 and the Beltway would result in the taking of homes under eminent domain.
Friday’s announcement promises that there will be “more collaborative dialogue” between the state and local communities on environmental impacts, but does not lay out specifics.
Foxwell said the agreement means the other portions of the governor’s original proposal will still happen, but at an “unspecified time.”
“We did not want to begin this project by going east of 270 to I-95. There was broad-based community opposition and we felt very strongly that it was premature,” he said.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, who has often clashed with Hogan on the project, said in an interview Friday afternoon that he was pleased that the American Legion Bridge has been prioritized.
“I was very happy to see that [the bridge] was the focus. It’s got money for transit, which has been one of our big concerns. And I think it’s a lot more sensitive to minimizing any impacts it’s gonna have,” he said.
Elrich said he met with Franchot a couple of weeks ago and they had a “pleasant and positive” conversation. Elrich also said he spoke on Friday with Greg Slater, the state highway administrator, who has said he thinks the project can be done without affecting any homes.
“What they’re trying to do is minimize the impacts,” Elrich said.
Friday’s proposal also removes a previous amendment that would have allowed the state to take homes up for sale prior to any environmental assessment. Slater said in an interview Friday that no property would be taken without an environmental review.
“It became clear that that had been of great concern for us,” he said.
Slater didn’t have a specific date for when the other portions of the Beltway might be widened, but said there needed to be “a lot more conversation” with local governments and other stakeholders such as the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Slater, who has been nominated to be Maryland’s next transportation secretary, said final requests for proposals for concessionaires will be issued in December of this year, with vendor selection targeted for March 2021.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org