The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland reveals $1.23 billion in proposed road, transit cuts unless toll lanes plan is restored

MDOT says it can’t afford the five projects without private financing for the Beltway and I-270 toll lanes

The Maryland Department of Transportation is seeking to widen the Capital Beltway between the Virginia side of the American Legion Bridge and the Interstate 270 spur in Bethesda. The state also plans to widen I-270. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Maryland will need to cut five road and transit projects worth a total of $1.23 billion unless regional officials approve the state’s plan to widen the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 with toll lanes, state officials said this week.

The region’s Transportation Planning Board is scheduled to vote Wednesday, at Maryland officials’ request, on whether to restore the toll lanes proposal to the region’s long-term transportation plan — a move required for the project’s federal environmental approval.

The regional board nixed the toll lanes June 16 at the urging of some Montgomery County leaders who say they would harm the environment and adjacent communities while giving short shrift to mass transit. However, some D.C.-area officials on the board have since said they hadn’t been aware that the vote would result in the Maryland Department of Transportation cutting other projects, planning board staff said.

Maryland seeks to restore Beltway, I-270 toll lanes proposal to regional transportation plan

In a Tuesday letter to the board, MDOT revealed the five projects it would cut if the toll lanes proposal is rejected again:

  • The Corridor Cities Transitway, a proposed busway in Montgomery’s I-270 corridor.
  • An interchange at Georgia Avenue and Norbeck Road (Route 28) in northern Silver Spring.
  • A full Beltway interchange for the Greenbelt Metro station in Prince George’s County.
  • The widening of Route 301 in Bowie.
  • Improvements to Route 180 and Ballenger Creek Pike in Frederick County.

Maryland toll lanes plan removed from key environmental analysis

The projects would lose all state construction funding until at least 2035 and be “downgraded” to studies, MDOT said in its letter.

MDOT officials have said they would need to divert money from those projects to replace private financing that the state is counting on as part of the toll lanes plan. Even if the state doesn’t add toll lanes, MDOT officials have said, it needs to replace the Beltway’s aging American Legion Bridge and upgrade other parts of the 1950s-era highways.

The $1.23 billion in potential cuts is less than the $1.5 billion that MDOT officials previously had said they would need to find and far below the $6 billion they initially projected. If the planning board rejects the toll lanes proposal again, it would vote on the list of proposed MDOT cuts Aug. 18. The board consists of elected officials from the D.C. region, as well as representatives from state and local transportation and planning agencies.

Some Montgomery officials have accused Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) administration of threatening other projects as a way to strong-arm local leaders into supporting the toll lanes.

Del. Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery), a planning board member and chairman of Maryland’s House appropriations subcommittee on transportation and the environment, called the list of cuts “silly” because none of the five projects were slated for funding in MDOT’s six-year budget.

“If the governor were serious about these five projects,” Korman said, “they’d be in his budget.”

Maryland lawmakers question need for private financing to build Beltway, I-270 toll lanes

Asked about Korman’s comments, Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said, “There is nothing humorous about Montgomery County politicians jeopardizing critical projects throughout the capital region, all to cater to pro-traffic activists at the expense of the overwhelming majority of residents who want something done about the traffic.”