Skip to main content

Press Releases

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich Joins State and Local Leaders, Community Advocates in Demanding Improvements to State’s I-495/I-270 Managed Lane Plan

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich today in Rockville joined Maryland State Senator Cheryl Kagan, State Delegate Jared Solomon, Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton and numerous community advocates to demand improvements to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s proposed I-495/I-270 Managed Lane study. The study is being presented for a vote to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Transportation Policy Board (TPB) at noon on Wednesday, July 21. 


The TPB, which includes representatives of jurisdictions from around the Washington Region, is scheduled to discuss the project and vote on whether to support it. The TPB voted against the current plan in June, but Wednesday’s vote could reverse the board’s previous decision. 


Among the community advocacy organizations joining today’s rally to oppose the plan were the Sierra Club, DontWiden270.org, Citizens Against Beltway Expansion (CABE), the League of Women Voters and the Environmental Justice Ministry.


Today’s rally can be viewed at https://youtu.be/KfPeGOJLkCs. Photos from the event can be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/montgomerycountymd/albums/72157719565693703.


“Montgomery County’s position on improvements to the Beltway and Interstate 270 has never been ‘no’,” said County Executive Elrich. “It has always been about finding the most efficient, effective and environmentally friendly way to reduce traffic congestion. There are two major problems with the Governor’s plan: the layout and the financing. These problems can be solved more efficiently and cost effectively by building two reversible lanes now and set back bridge abutments to accommodate future additional lanes if needed. In addition, we must make significant investments in mass transit, including bus-rapid transit, to reduce congestion and improve time for commuters getting off I-495. Our plan is not a ‘no,’ but it does factor in the concerns and input from residents. That is what we have asked for from day one.”


At today’s rally, the opponents to the plan said Governor Hogan, through the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), continues to advance his proposal to add four private toll lanes to I-495 and I-270. Approval from the Transportation Planning Board is being sought to enter into an agreement with a private partner for the project and to formally commence the design. In exchange for fronting the costs to build the toll lanes, a selected private entity will set toll pricing and collect income from the tolls over the next 50 years.  


"Why on earth would we spend billions of dollars in taxpayer money on a proposal that could charge our constituents as much as $50 to travel 12 miles without the data to justify it?" said Maryland State Senator Kagan. 


Elected officials and residents agreed that Montgomery County, as well as jurisdictions around the region, need transportation solutions to address the congestion around—and the structural condition—of the American Legion Bridge. However, they also said that the State has not completed the basic analysis of project benefits and impacts needed to make an informed decision. The concerned groups also said that MDOT has not conducted a project financial analysis to conclude that a decades-long obligation of public right-of-way for private commercial activity is necessary to serve the public interest.  


“This massive private widening will put taxpayers on the hook for exorbitant tolls, negatively impact our community and environment, and turn our public goods over to a private for-profit company,” said Delegate Solomon. “Since it was first announced, this project has been the only solution the administration has offered to fix our regional transportation problems. Unfortunately, analysis after analysis shows those promises just don’t add up.”


Those concerned with the proposed Managed Lanes Study said Public-Private Partnership (P3) approval request would irreversibly tie the State to the private partner, Accelerate Maryland Partners (AMP), led by Transurban and Macquarie Capital, and is premature. They said neither the public nor the TPB has the information it needs to objectively decide to approve the contract.  


“We have the opportunity to lead or be led,” said Rockville Mayor Newton. “It’s time to ignore the bullies and do the right thing for the future of our economy, our children and our region. A “transformative” plan is one that moves us forward with equality and equity—and seeks to improve our world. To MDOT/SHA and all those who deny the facts:  let’s talk about real costs for this plan and stop passing the buck.”


Barbara Coufal of Citizens Against Beltway Expansion (CABE) said: “The State Treasurer’s Office recently released its review of the predevelopment agreement with Transurban. The Treasurer’s office cautioned that ‘there are significant uncertainties around the costs, risks and ultimate benefits of the Phase 3 Agreement.’ We should heed this warning.” 


Josh Tulkin, Maryland State director of the Sierra Club, said: "Climate change is causing record heat waves that are killing people and wildlife, causing record forest fires and droughts, record flooding and sea-level rise. Yet, our governor and too many local officials are turning a blind eye. New highway lanes induce more driving, which brings more pollution and climate emissions. It is a fact. This project will put us in the wrong direction."


Sally Stolz of DontWiden270.org said: "The Maryland Department of Transportation requested peak tolls of over $4 per mile when the toll road open. It would cost over $50 to get from Rockville to Tyson’s Corner in peak congestion, which is exactly when one would like to take the toll road. And all free lanes do not remain free. The HOV-2 lanes will be gone and south of Falls Road, the seven lanes will be reduced to five. Governor Hogan should put those facts in his ads."


Eliza Cava, director of the Conservation at Audubon Naturalist Society, said: “The Audubon Naturalist Society agrees with every elected official in this region that adding more luxury lanes on I-495/I-270 will only exacerbate flooding, water and air pollution and the climate crisis and we can't afford that. For the health of our residents and our environment, ANS urges the Transportation Planning Board members to uphold their June vote that rightly rejected Gov. Hogan’s I-495/I-270 Highway expansion project.”


Major project design and environmental study flaws cited against this project include:  

  • Lack of meaningful assessment of incremental improvements and management strategies for the highways and the assessment of specific transit services supporting travel in the corridors. These omissions eliminate the ability for the public and the TPB to understand what options, other than four privately financed toll lanes, that could improve these corridors, by how much and at what cost.   
  • The decision to break the I-270 corridor into two pieces is ineffective as it will exacerbate the bottleneck at I-370. 
  • Lack of a comprehensive plan. Montgomery County has consistently encouraged the acceleration of the study of I-270 north of I-370 so that a comprehensive plan could be considered, and commute relief provided, for those in northern Montgomery and Frederick County. To date, the State has not advanced this work, so these critical information gaps persist.   
  • Lack of evidence for a P3 financing plan. Without continuing congestion, there is a fear that not enough people will pay to use the priced lanes, and toll use will be too low to provide the required return to the toll lane operator. This motivation encourages operating the toll lanes far below their capacity to maintain congestion to push drivers to use the toll lanes. The draft environmental impact statement confirms the concerns by showing the toll-free lanes overwhelmed in most segments. This creates a massive equity problem for those who are unable to afford or otherwise access the toll lanes.   
  • MDOT is inappropriately incentivized to develop this project. It could cost MDOT nearly $200 million to stop the work, which is a powerful incentive to continue the project even if the project does not make sense for Montgomery County and the rest of the region. MDOT has already committed more than $140 million to this program. Entering into a Predevelopment Agreement with a developer will result in as much as $54 million more just for Phase 1 South. MDOT is likely to bear these costs unless the project is built. 
  • Contracting with a commercial entity that will benefit more from building a bigger project introduces inappropriate influence on the outcomes, further jeopardizing the assessment of the public interest by the TPB.  
  • The State does not provide an unbiased comparison of public toll financing in comparison to private toll financing. A wide range of financial strategies are available to the State (e.g. federal infrastructure and bridge programs, changes to current trust fund sources, vehicle-miles-traveled charges, etc.). The private partner is merely fronting money that our citizens will need to repay, along with profits above and beyond the cost of borrowing the money. 
  • The draft environmental impact statement notes that if MDOT has underestimated construction costs, the state may be required to subsidize the project as much as $998 million and that subsidy would “typically be paid to the developer at the beginning of the contract.” 


# # # 

 

Release ID: 21-571
Media Contact: Scott Peterson, 202-277-9412
Categories: Transportation