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D.C. Council members move to oppose Maryland toll plan for Capital Beltway, I-270 and B-W Parkway

Proposed resolution says widening the highways would only worsen traffic in the city

Traffic flows along interchanges that link I-495 and I-270 in Bethesda. Maryland is planning to widen the Beltway and I-270 to add toll lanes. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Some D.C. lawmakers are taking a stance against Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) plan to build toll lanes on three major highways that feed traffic into the District, saying that widening the roadways will only exacerbate the city’s traffic congestion.

A resolution introduced in the D.C. Council on Tuesday lays out opposition to the Maryland toll plan, urging the state to instead embrace a public transit solution to the region’s gridlock.

“This highway widening means that D.C. will inevitably have to spend more on road maintenance. It also is a setback for our region’s ambitious climate goals,” said Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who introduced the resolution along with Council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), David Grosso (I-At Large) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).

“Widening these highways would have direct negative consequences on the District of Columbia,” Nadeau said in a statement. “I believe it is our duty to act.”

Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, called out Nadeau’s attack on the toll plan as irresponsible, saying the highway project offers a solution to the region’s traffic nightmare.

“This resolution is as illogical as it is irresponsible,” Ricci said Wednesday afternoon. “The whole point of the governor’s plan is to improve the flow of traffic around the city, which will mean less gridlock on D.C. roads. If anything, the D.C. Council should be thanking Governor Hogan for offering a serious solution to this problem, not trying to keep their constituents stuck in unbearable traffic.”

The D.C. officials join a growing list of opponents to Hogan’s plan to relieve traffic by building toll lanes on the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 as well as on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Opponents in Maryland — mostly environmental groups, residents and public officials from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — say the state is moving too quickly on the project and ignoring local concerns. Many residents fear the project could destroy homes and businesses if the highways have to be widened to accommodate up to four new lanes each, and others say investments should be directed to improving transit.

Maryland is focusing on adding toll lanes in plan to widen the Beltway and I-270

Hogan, who announced the plan in 2017, said building toll lanes as part of a public-private partnership would provide the region with much needed traffic relief at no cost to the state.

The Maryland Department of Transportation is holding public workshops this month on the final seven alternatives under consideration for the Beltway and I-270. The state plans to begin soliciting companies’ proposals for how and where the lanes would be built while a federal environmental and impact study is completed. In a separate project, the state is looking at taking over the B-W Parkway from the U.S. Park Service and adding toll lanes to pay for improvements.

The D.C. Council resolution is pending review in the committee of the whole before it moves to a full council vote. Supporters say they hope the panel would back the resolution to send a unified message to Maryland that toll lanes aren’t the solution.

Nadeau said any additional trips generated by widened highways in the suburbs would have an adverse impact on the District, its road infrastructure and its efforts to reduce traffic fatalities. It also would be detrimental to the region’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, she said, Hogan should pursue transit alternatives that will advance the region’s shared goals of reducing traffic congestion.

Study: Up to 34 homes, 4 businesses along Capital Beltway would be destroyed to build toll lanes under Hogan plan

Her resolution points to studies and “decades of real-world experience” that show adding traveling lanes to highways does little to reduce congestion.

“When roads are widened, more drivers are encouraged to use them, and the end result is the same traffic problem as before,” the resolution says. “This phenomenon of ‘induced demand’ is thoroughly documented and commonly accepted among transportation experts. Even Virginia’s efforts to add tolls to I-66 and I-495 while widening them have had few impacts on overall congestion.”