FOLLOWING THE Great Recession, it took six years for traffic across the United States to bounce back to pre-downturn levels — and then get worse. If the post-pandemic recovery is much faster, as many economists expect, then brace yourself: Those soul-sapping commutes will be back soon enough.

Sorry for the bad news, but it’s useful context by which to judge Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) decision to drastically downsize his plan, unveiled four years ago, to widen most of Maryland’s portion of the Capital Beltway by adding high-occupancy toll roads, free for carpools and buses. Mr. Hogan’s ambitious blueprint — a public-private partnership that would shift virtually all the cost to companies that would build the new lanes in return for collecting toll revenue for decades — was suburban Maryland’s best hope for avoiding a descent into ever-worsening traffic on its most heavily congested roadway.

By shrinking the plan to focus on replacing the antiquated American Legion Bridge and expanding the lower part of Interstate 270, while scrapping most of the Beltway widening, the governor has bowed to local political opposition. But make no mistake, traffic on Maryland’s portion of the Beltway does not care about local political opposition.

That traffic ranks high in the nation’s various nightmare indexes measuring America’s most clogged corridors — especially a six-mile stretch of the Beltway’s Outer Loop, from U.S. 1 to Georgia Avenue, regularly rated among the worst morning commute segments in the nation. It is likely to get worse even if the state pours money into mass transit options, as it should. After all, the Maryland suburbs, with 2.4 million people and 1.1 million jobs, are projected to grow by about 400,000 people, and more than 200,000 jobs, by the year 2045, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Granted, the portion of the project that Maryland will now push is a rational priority choice: a bridge nearing the end of its life expectancy as a critical regional link, and a notorious choke point section of I-270. There is something resembling a consensus in favor of improving those segments, which will connect more directly with the express lanes in the works, or already built, in suburban Northern Virginia; that’s not the case for the stretch of Beltway east of I-270.

It’s also the case that local opposition to the governor’s original vision was not purely a case of NIMBYism. Widening most of Maryland’s part of the Beltway would mean losing some homes, backyards and public parkland; it could also threaten some land where Walter Reed National Military Medical Center sits.

Yet it is a truism that major new infrastructure causes real dislocation and disruption. Perhaps it will take some future Democratic governor, one with thick skin and a firm grasp of demographic and traffic forecasts, to convince recalcitrant local Democrats and get the job done.

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