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Rice Opposes Proposed State House Bill to Halt I-270 Improvements

Councilmember Craig Rice has sent letters to the two Maryland House Committee chairs voicing his opposition to a proposed bill that would halt the public-private partnership solicitation process and further delay possible improvements to I-270 in Montgomery County.

The Bill — HB91— proposed by Democratic delegates Marc Korman from District 16 (Potomac-Bethesda) and Al Carr from District 18 (Kensington-Bethesda) would halt the public-private partnership solicitation process until draft environmental impacts statement is completed.

The bill is directed to halt Governor Larry Hogan’s Administration’s $9 billion Traffic Relief Plan to widen the entire length of I-270, all of the Maryland portion of the I-495 from bridge-to-bridge. Hogan proposed the massive plan using public-private partnerships to pay for the much-needed improvements to two of the state’s busiest roadways. According to the Department of Legislative Services Fiscal and Policy Note, Korman-Carr bill will delay will likely delay the project at least a year and could result in higher construction costs and other costs.

The Bill was introduced in the House of Delegates on January 17 and had an initial hearing on January 18. It has been assigned to the Environment & Transportation Committee and the Appropriations Committee for review.

Councilmember Rice has sent a letter to Del. Kumar P. Barve (District 17 – Rockville), the chair of the Environment & Transportation Committee, as well as Del. Maggie MacIntosh (District 43 – Baltimore City) the chair of the Appropriations Committee.

“The State Traffic Relief Plan is a long-awaited effort to tackle the severe congestion occurring along I-270,” wrote Rice. “We must continue to move forward and do what is right for our residents to address and ease this untenable congestion problem.”

The Hogan Administration’s draft Consolidated Transportation Program for fiscal 2019 through 2024 includes $129.5 million to continue planning for the new lanes on I-270 and I-495. The Maryland Department of Transportation advises that one of the goals of the I-270 and I-495 project is that there will be no net cost to the State. To that end, MDOT advises that, in time, it will be repaid for these and other project development costs by the public-private partnerships.

In December, MDOT and MDTA delivered a presolicitation report for the I-495 and I-270 toll lanes that did not include an environmental study in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. MDOT said the plans for both projects are structured to proceed simultaneously with the environmental and solicitation processes so that any issues identified in the federal approval process can inform the project design. MDOT also advises that federal regulations allow it to work with a developer prior to approval of the NEPA analysis.

Withdrawal of the presolicitation report for I-495 and I-270 likely results in at least a one-year delay in the start and completion of those projects, according to MDOT. The projects are also expected to generate upfront concession payments from developers as well as federal support, so any delay in the projects likely results in a delay in those payments and federal fund revenues as well. Similarly, any State or federal expenditures that are part of the resulting public-private partnership agreement could also be delayed.

“I am writing in opposition to HB 91 and the detrimental impact it will have to Montgomery County residents who live and work along I-270,” wrote Rice. “I know firsthand how severely congested traffic is along this corridor, and how this situation is exacerbated each year as the UpCounty continues to be sought out as one of the last vestiges of new and more affordable housing in the county. Our residents have been advocating for 20 years now for the state to increase capacity along this interstate. To halt the current project that will finally address the congestion and capacity issue along I-270 is unnecessary, costly and would have a devastating impact on the UpCounty.”

“Residents, every day, experience the severe bottleneck of traffic that occurs from Clarksburg all the way down to the I-495 spur,” continued Rice. “The interstate currently handles from 79,400 to 261,200 vehicles a day at various points. State Highway Administration expects those numbers to increase to 107,000 to 290,000 vehicles within the next ten years.”

“The Montgomery County Council for many years, has ranked the I-270 corridor improvements as a top priority in our state transportation letters,” wrote Rice. “Additionally, just last May, both County Executives and Council Presidents from Montgomery and Frederick County wrote a letter to the governor stressing the need to find and address a long-term solution for I-270.”

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