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County Council Seeks More Info on Hogan’s $9B Highway Plan

The Montgomery County Council is looking to get more details on Governor Larry Hogan’s $9 billion plan to widen the entire lengths of I-270 and I-495 which was announced last month.

On Thursday, the members of the Montgomery County Council Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee sent a letter to Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn inviting him to join the Committee to discuss the State’s Traffic Relief Plan and to respond to questions about details of the proposal and the process going forward.

Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a $9 billion Traffic Relief Plan, which will consist of widening I-270 and I-495 in Montgomery County to accommodate four new lanes, in the largest proposed public-private partnership highway project in North America.

The letter from Council President Roger Berliner and Councilmembers Nancy Floreen and Tom Hucker asks Secretary Rahn for details about many facets of the proposal, including whether the State plans to work with Montgomery County in the development of the plan, what assumptions were made regarding the pricing of express toll lanes, whether transit has been or will be considered in the plan, and whether the State has analyzed how widening the highways might impact nearby properties and parkland.

The Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee members invited Secretary Rahn or a representative to the October 24 Committee session.

“Congestion in our community is one of the biggest detriments to our quality of life,” wrote the members of the Committee. “Accordingly, while we appreciate Governor Hogan’s focus on this top priority issue with the release of the State’s Traffic Relief Plan last month, we need to understand more clearly what the plan will do and will not do.”

In June, the Council and County Executive Isiah Leggett submitted to a Transportation Priorities Letter to the Hogan administration listing what the County believed to be the highest transportation issues in the County. In the letter, the Council and County Executive identified the need to complete the study of two reversible high-occupancy/toll lanes on I-270 between Shady Grove Road and Frederick County as well as one high-occupancy toll lane in each direction on I-495 between the I-270 West Spur and Virginia in order to address traffic congestion.

Among the questions the Council want answers to are;

Does the state plan to regularly and substantially consult with Montgomery County in the development and refinement of this plan? If so, what form will that consultation take? If not, why not?

What, if any, assumptions were made as to the pricing of tolls necessary to fund the infrastructure contemplated in this plan?

What is the state’s plan to implement the transit component of the I-270/U.S. 15 Multimodal Corridor Study, especially the Corridor Cities Transitway from Gaithersburg to Clarksburg?

What spatial and cost analysis was done that supports the ability to add four lanes to I-270 and I-495, especially on I-495 east of the I-270 spur where neighborhoods, businesses and parkland are in close proximity to the existing highway?

Does the plan include adding capacity to the American Legion Bridge, and if so, will that additional capacity accommodate transit? If the plan does not include adding capacity to the American Legion Bridge, has the state assessed the magnitude of the increased congestion at this chokepoint?

Has the state considered high-occupancy toll lanes, which would tie into Virginia’s plans to extend its existing high-occupancy toll lanes to the American Legion Bridge?

The week after Hogan unveiled the plan in Gaithersburg, Councilmember Marc Elrich wrote an op-ed critical of the plan as a “sledge hammer for a project that needs a scalpel.”

“The scope of the proposed solutions for I-270 and I-495 are overly grandiose and unnecessary,” wrote Elrich. “On I-270 a more sensible approach would be two reversible lanes from the County line to the Beltway, which is what the County Council proposed several years ago. There isn't room for four lanes, and it’s an unnecessary expense, because the congestion on I-270 is directional - meaning from north to south in the morning and reverses in the evening.”

He also pointed out the problems of what happens once the traffic from these roads exits the highways. “The Beltway and I-270 have congestion problems, but what happens when exiting these roads is equally problematic… In other words, the local road network is already overwhelmed and no amount of highway lanes can change that situation,” wrote Elrich.

In the June Transportation Priorities letter, the Council requested that the state advance the study of capacity and operational strategies from I-270 and along I-495 into Virginia that include transit, pedestrian and bicycle connections over the Potomac River and that the state address traffic congestion on I-495 east of the I-270 spur through what the Council called “spot improvements that are respectful of our natural resources and communities.”

Top: The County Council has asked MDDOT Secretary Pete K. Rahn to address some questions about the Hogan Administration's $9 billion plan to improve traffic congestion in the region.

Next: 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 back in September.

Next: The Hogan Administration’s Traffic Relief Plan.

Photos by Germantown Pulse

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