Maryland officials are asking D.C.-area leaders to vote on July 21 to restore the state’s toll lanes plan for part of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 to a list of regional transportation projects, according to a letter Wednesday from the Maryland Department of Transportation.
MDOT has pressed — and angered — some local officials since last month’s vote by saying the state will have to cut about $1.5 billion worth of road and transit projects in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties if it must replace the American Legion Bridge without the private financing included in the toll lanes project.
In its letter, MDOT listed $2.84 billion worth of projects “under consideration” to be delayed or cut — $1.66 billion in Prince George’s, $724.5 million in Montgomery and $453 million in Frederick. The list includes building a Corridor Cities Transitway in upper Montgomery, building a full interchange on the Beltway at the Greenbelt Metro station, and widening U.S. Route 15 in Frederick.
Montgomery Executive Marc Elrich (D), who opposes the MDOT plan to add four toll lanes to each highway, called the list of potential cuts “kind of unconscionable.”
“This is really a scare tactic,” Elrich said of Gov. Larry Hogan (R). “His list exceeds the amount of money they’d need. I’ve never seen an elected official try to blackmail people en masse the way he’s trying to do.”
Asked about those comments, Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said Elrich “personally lobbied” board members to “kill” a new American Legion Bridge.
“Now his reckless actions have imperiled this project and many others in the region,” Ricci said in an email. “His constituents deserve to know the consequences of what he’s done.”
Asked whether MDOT was threatening local jurisdictions that had opposed the toll lanes, MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson said the state must show it can afford its part of the region’s long-range plan and maintain its highway system. Without private financing for the toll lanes, she said, money for a new bridge must be reallocated from other projects.
“It’s simple math,” Henson wrote in an email.
Under the proposal, a private team would finance and build the lanes in exchange for keeping most of the toll revenue over 50 years.
Hogan and supporters say the lanes are needed to relieve traffic congestion, while opponents say they would cause too much harm to the environment and adjacent communities.
The planning board rejected the proposal on a 16 to 13 vote. It’s unclear how many votes MDOT would need to reverse the decision because the vote could be weighted by population via a complex formula.
The potential to lose state funding for major projects appears to be swaying some local officials.
Prince George’s, which voted against the highway plan last month, asked the board in a June 24 letter “for reconsideration” of the proposal, saying county officials didn’t know that private financing for the toll lanes “was necessary for supporting a suite of other projects.”
In Frederick, the county council on Tuesday named Executive Jan H. Gardner (D) to the planning board, replacing council member Kai Hagen (D), who had voted against the toll lanes.
Gardner told the council she was concerned that “one of the unintended consequences” of the planning board’s rejection was that Frederick would lose other road improvements. Her appointment was first reported by Maryland Matters.
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