Montgomery County officials and residents oppose I-270 project during hearing


Shown on a map of the new preferred alternative recommended by the Maryland Department of Transportation for the I-270 widening project in dark blue. Previous work proposed on the Capital Beltway, shown in light blue, will no longer be part of the first phase of the project.

Maryland Department of Transportation

Some Montgomery County residents and elected officials on Monday expressed opposition to a public-private partnership plan to widen I-270 from the American Legion Bridge to I-370 – specifically the toll structure.

The first phase of the public-private partnership focuses on the reconstruction of the American Legion Bridge and the construction of two managed high-occupancy (HOT) toll lanes in each direction from the south end of I-270 to I -370.

Governor Larry Hogan has actively promoted the $ 11 billion project, calling it the only viable solution to alleviating traffic jams. Opponents, including many from Montgomery County, oppose it, saying the overall toll structure would cost middle and working-class residents dear and not lead to long-term traffic relief.

Hogan introduced the project in 2017, but its scope has shrunk since then – of which the most recent in May, when officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation announced the removal of most of the Capital Beltway from the first phase, but improvements could be made in later phases of the project.

The state selected Accelerate Maryland Partners as the developer for the first phase, which includes Transurban and Macquarie Capital as the main developer of the project and member of the capital involved in the project.

About a dozen people said in a hearing by the Maryland Department of Transportation on Monday that the plan would result in high tolls and not alleviate traffic jams in the long run.

A speaker, Sally Stolz of Rockville, said toll rates would be unaffordable for most middle and working class residents. She said that Transurban, one of the main contractors involved in the plan, has an incentive to keep the regular lanes obstructed, so that more people end up having to use the HOT lanes, which in turn increases the amount of revenue they have. they would collect.

“This P3 is an overwhelming plan,” Stolz said. “It’s overwhelming to think that someone would unleash it on us. It’s not ‘traffic relief’ and it’s not free. It’s an unreasonable regressive tax.

The amount that motorists would pay in tolls is disputed between state officials and opponents.

Maryland Department of Transportation says two-axle passenger vehicles would start at 20 cents per mile, with a “soft cap rate” of $ 1.50 and a general maximum rate of $ 3.76. Motorcyclists, buses and carpoolers would not pay tolls.

The soft cap rate would only apply to HOT lanes when motorists are traveling over 50 miles per hour. But opponents at Monday’s hearing said drivers could actually pay more than $ 50, pointing to similar models used in northern Virginia.

Other speakers said the state should conduct an environmental scan before considering entering into a deal. One such person was Linda Rosendorf, a member of Don’t Widen 270, a coalition against the project.

“Good government requires that all fiscal, environmental and social impacts of this project be determined before committing to a long-term exclusive project,” Rosendorf said. “No contract should be voted on, let alone approved, until the environmental impact study has been finalized.”

Only one intervenor, Edgar Gonzalez of North Potomac, testified in favor of the project.

Gonzalez said the tolls should be affordable for middle and working class residents.

But the public-private partnership is the only viable way to raise funds to relieve traffic jams along I-270, he said.

James Ports, executive director of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said in an interview that the project has been amended several times since its introduction in 2017 by Governor Larry Hogan and his administration. The changes responded to public concerns.

But now the current version is the only financially viable option, Ports said.

“At one point, it doesn’t pay for itself,” he said of continuing changes to the project. “And so, now we’re at a point where that’s pretty much the project we need to do.”

Still, residents and elected officials said the proposal would end up costing taxpayers who pay to use the toll lanes, and there were still many unanswered questions about whether this was necessary.

State Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-Rockville) said she had four main concerns about the project:

  • The toll pricing plan is confusing and can lead to excessive tolls. She recalled spending $ 67 on tolls to attend a conference in Northern Virginia
  • The authorities do not yet know the environmental impact of the project
  • Telecommuting has changed when and how many people come into the office, and the data on this should be looked at
  • With President Joe Biden in power, there are more opportunities for projects to be funded with federal money, like the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River.

Of the. Al Carr (D-Kensington) raised a separate concern: the state’s current use of tolls and how they work for middle-class residents.

He said the state has imposed heavy penalties for non-payment of tolls for its current roads, such as the Intercounty Connector, which connects Montgomery County to Prince George County. Motorists could be fined $ 25 for failing to pay a toll as small as $ 1.50, Carr said.

“Our District Courts Are Clogged With Tens of Thousands of Disputed Video Toll Late Fees transactions, ”Carr said. “I am contacted weekly by the Marylanders who got caught up in this broken system and owe thousands of dollars. It is often regular workers who have fallen through the cracks of our system. ”

A virtual hearing on the project is scheduled for Wednesday, after two hearings held on Monday.

Steve Bohnel can be contacted at [email protected]


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