Governor Larry Hogan shocked many local Montgomery County government and civic leaders with a massive bombshell about his administration’s plan to widen three major commuter highways in the State of Maryland.
Standing on a hill overlooking I-270 in Gaithersburg near the Park & Ride lot off Quince Orchard Road, Hogan unveiled plans to widen the entire length of I-270, all of the Maryland portion of the I-495 from bridge-to-bridge, and have the State of Maryland take control of and widen the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from Baltimore to DC.
“These three massive, unprecedented projects to widen 495, 270 and 295 will be absolutely transformative and will help Maryland’s citizens go about their daily lives in more efficient and safer manner.”
“We are here to announce the important and most significant transportation improvements in the history of our state,” said Hogan. “In fact, we are announcing three projects — each of which individually would be a transformative game-changer — added all together these project will substantially and dramatically improve our state highways system and traffic throughout the region. They will also benefit the daily lives of millions of Marylanders.”
The $9 billion Traffic Relief Plan for these three major state highways will reduce congestion for millions of drivers and mark the beginning of a historic and transformative effort to significantly improve the traffic conditions on some of Maryland’s most traveled roads and highways for years to come.
“First,” said Hogan, “we intend to widen the Capital Beltway/Route 495 for its entire length through Maryland. Our plan is to add four additional lanes all the way from the American Legion Bridge to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Everyday nearly a quarter of million people get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and in sometimes hours long backups along I-495. By increasing capacity along this vital route, we will finally bring the Capital Beltway in Maryland into the 21st century.”
“The second project that we are announcing today is another major undertaking which we will be taking to finally break the gridlock along I-270. We will be adding four lanes to 270 all the way from the Capital Beltway to its intersection with I-70 in the City of Frederick,” announced the Governor.
“Finally,” he continued, “the third announcement is that we are negotiating with the Department of the Interior to transfer ownership of the Baltimore/Washington Parkway – MD Route 295 to the Maryland State Highway Authority in order to add four lanes to Route 295 all the way from Baltimore City to the District of Columbia.”
According to Hogan, “The plans to widen and improve Interstates 495 and 270 will be implemented through public/private partnerships, or P3s, which have a proven track record of success. Not only to P3s reduce the cost to taxpayers, they also have the ability to generate billions of dollars in revenue for the state.”
“Today, we are turning Maryland’s celebrated innovation into real action. These projects will substantially and dramatically improve our state highway system and traffic in the region,” said Hogan
The announcement stunned and pleasantly surprised local leaders.
“It was a shock for all of us,” said Councilmember Craig Rice via a phone interview after the governor’s announcement. “Something very unexpected, but I am very happy that the governor has looked at Montgomery County’s Legislative Priorities List for the last umpteen years. That has had to widen 270 at or near the top — and that predates Governor Hogan and goes back to Governor O’Malley as well. This needs to be done. You’ve heard it from Frederick County and Montgomery County. It is one of the worst bottlenecks in the State of Maryland.”
Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce said she was shocked. “I couldn’t even in my wildest dreams imagine that this was going to happen. We have been talking about I-270 for years and years, and have never gotten any traction.”
Balcombe believed that Hogan’s $100 million innovative congestion relief project which will expand the merge area on I-270 south of River Road was going to be as much relief for Montgomery County motorists would see from the governor. “We basically thought the $100 million innovative improvements was going to tick that box and (the County’s request for widening 270) would go back to the bottom of the list. So, the widening of 270 with hot lanes is really needed. I-270 needs congestion relief. This is a huge development.” The work related to the $100 million innovative congestion relief project will begin next Wednesday night, Sept. 27.
Joining the governor were Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn, MDOT State Highway Administrator Greg Slater, Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Kevin Reigrut, as well as elected officials and community and business representatives from throughout the Baltimore-Washington region.
The proposed projects to widen 495 and 270 are estimated to be valued at $7.6 billion, with the addition of the MD 295 project — adding lanes to all three highways — is valued at more than $9 billion.
The Hogan Administration plans to use Public/Private Partnerships to make the improvements to the highways. He has authorized the Maryland Department of Transportation to put out “Requests for Information” to private companies to provide information on what would be the best way to bring about the improvements. From there, the DOT will review and chose which combination of concepts works best and put forth requests for proposals to the industry.
Today’s announcement officially begins the process to solicit the Public-Private Partnership industry for input and solutions to provide major congestion relief to these key transportation routes. With the total project estimated value at $9 billion, the P3 portion to add four new lanes on both I-495 and I-270 is the largest proposed P3 highway project in North America. The P3 will be seeking private developers to design, build, finance, operate and maintain new lanes on I-495 between the American Legion Bridge and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and on I-270 between I-495 and I-70. Once completed, the Traffic Relief Plan will mean new express toll lanes, in addition to existing lanes, on I-495, I-270, and MD 295.
“In our neighboring state of Virginia,” said Hogan, “the I-95 and I-495 Express Lane projects generated $5.3 billion in economic activity and supported 28,000 jobs. I-95 Express Lane users saw an average of 35- to 40-minute reduction in their daily commutes. P3 projects like the Purple Line, which was recently started construction allows us to harness the expertise and efficiencies of the private sector to modernize our state’s infrastructure without burdening the taxpayers.”
Once all three highways are widened, two – 270 and 495 — will have express lanes which will collect tolls. Hogan administration officials said they could not begin to discuss how much the tolls might be for any of the roads.
“We are not able to answer how much the tolls will be at this point,” said Maryland State Highway Administration secretary Greg Slater. “Once we field the information coming in from the requests for information then we will work all that through with our private sector partners in the P3.”
When asked if he would need to bring the proposed plan to widen three of the region’s major commuter arteries to the Maryland State Legislature for approval, Hogan said that he did not need legislative support.
However, Montgomery County residents and candidate for the Democratic nomination to run for Hogan’s seat in the 2018 gubernatorial election Richard Madaleno was quick to point that the Statehouse will have to have some say in this before any lanes are added.
The announcement by Hogan is quite the political move by Hogan who is up for re-election in 14 months. The Republican governor has taken a big step to reach out to the largely democratic voters of Montgomery County by addressing what is perhaps one of their biggest complaints of voters in the county.
Rice said Hogan was “oversimplifying” when he spoke of not needing legislative approvals. “There certainly are pieces of the proposed project where the General Assembly is going to have sign off with an approval when it comes to contracting with outside agencies or companies and when it comes to revenue sharing. All of those things need to be done. I think when he says he doesn’t need Legislative approval, he’s talking about his ability to put this project into the budget. He is right about that.”
“Of course the devil is in the details,” said Rice, “when it comes what this is going to mean, what these tolls are going to be, and how this operates. That is certainly is something that we need to pay special attention to as part of the P3 process. But, the commitment in saying that we need to do something with additional lanes on 270 is a step in the right direction.”
Top: Governor Larry Hogan, flanked by Maryland Transportation Authority Executive Director Kevin Reigrut and Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary Pete K. Rahn, announces plans to widen I-270, I-495, and MD-295 in Gaithersburg on Thursday morning.
Next: The Hogan Administration’s Traffic Relief Plan.
Next: The plan would widen the entire lengths of I-270, I-495, and MD-295.
Next: Late morning traffic on I-270 was light in Gaithersburg, that is not the case at rush hour.
Next: Gov. Larry Hogan.
Photos by Germantown Pulse.