BETHESDA -- In September Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced his ambitious plan to fix traffic congestion on two of the County’s most important roadways by adding additional lanes.
In his proposal, Hogan promised to add toll lanes to I-270 and I-495 as way to clear traffic congestion with little cost to the taxpayer. Although Hogan promised his plan to widen I-270 and I-495 would be “transformative” for commuters around the state, some said they were skeptical of his plan.
Last week, residents had their first opportunity to weigh in the Governor’s proposal as the State Highway Administration held several town halls about the plan. The town halls are the first step in the years-long process in which state transportation officials will receive feedback before the state begins its first step toward widening the two highways -- an environmental impact study.
“This is really the beginning. We want to hear from the citizens to see what their desires are, what their needs are,” said Jeffrey Folden, State Highway Administration official overseeing Hogan’s proposal. Among those attending the open house, was Ben Ross, chair of Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, who said he opposed Hogan’s plan to add lanes to I-270 and I-495.
“You build more roads, it just causes more driving; the roads wind up just as congested,” Ross said.
Ross, a resident of Bethesda, stood in front of the open house, held at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Thursday, handing out literature against Hogan’s proposal, saying he would prefer the state spend money on expanding the MARC train, a commuter rail with routes parallel to the I-270 corridor.
Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18), who represents Bethesda in the General Assembly, said although there is pushback from the County delegation to Annapolis against the governor's proposal the plan was “a fait accompli,” and is not open to major changes.
“We never asked for this proposal; it is totally driven by Hogan,” Gutierrez said.
Hogan said his proposal to add lanes to I-270 and I-495 would be a P3 public-private partnership, meaning it would be largely financed through tolls charged to commuters who take the new express lanes. Since Hogan’s administration can finance the project through a public-private partnership, he argued that he does not need approval from the General Assembly, which has a lot of power over the state’s budget, to fund the plan.
For years, traffic congestion has been a main issue for residents in the County and the region, and has become exacerbated by safety and reliability problems facing the area’s main source of transit -- the Metro. County Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), who chairs the Council Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, has repeatedly called I-270 a “parking lot” during rush hour and has called on the state to step in and come up with a solution.
After Hogan made his announcement, Berliner criticized the plan, saying he preferred the state implement reversible lanes, which would require little construction and could provide extra relief to commuters during rush hour.
Since he was elected governor, Hogan has proposed incremental fixes to I-270, such as an interchange at I-270 and Watkins Mill Road, but Hogan’s latest proposal - - to add lanes on I-270 and I-495 -- is his biggest transportation project for Montgomery County during his tenure as governor.