Major change considered for Beltway, I-270 toll lanes plan

Maryland will consider one significantly different toll lane plan for the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270, the state disclosed Wednesday afternoon.

The Maryland Department of Transportation has agreed to conduct a more detailed review of a Montgomery County plan that recommends extending Virginia’s 495 Express Lanes over a rebuilt American Legion Bridge up I-270 to Gaithersburg, where drivers headed toward Interstate 95 would be directed onto the Intercounty Connector.

The alternative was not one considered in earlier rounds of study, where the state essentially narrowed down remaining options to some type of toll lane construction along all of I-270 and the Maryland Beltway.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Earl Lewis said Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration will conduct initial reviews over the next few weeks to see if the plan to divert traffic off the Beltway onto the ICC fits with the study’s goals.

“We are also planning public and elected official outreach in August, and this alternative will be part of that process,” Lewis said.

Using the already built ICC as part of the toll system plans would prevent any need to widen the entire Capital Beltway between I-270 and I-95, Montgomery County argues, protecting homes and parkland that are likely to be affected under the Hogan administration’s current plans.

“This connection provides a managed-lane network for the entire north side of the Capital Beltway without requiring expansion of I-495 between I-270 and I-95,” Montgomery County said in a July 11 letter to the Transportation Planning Board.

The plan does call for some upgrades on the Beltway between I-270 and I-95, such as variable speed limit signs and potential use of the shoulder for traffic at certain times.

It also includes significant changes to entice commuters to drive less by improving park-and-rides, commuter bus, MARC Train and long-promised local bus rapid transit systems that could be funded by part of the toll revenue.

Montgomery County’s proposal would also see toll lanes built in the median of I-95 from the ICC to the Beltway that would continue through Prince George’s County to near the Wilson Bridge and National Harbor.

North of Gaithersburg on I-270, there would be two reversible HOV lanes that tie in to the toll lanes in each direction from Interstate 370 to the Legion Bridge, Tysons and Springfield.

There are numerous steps left before the state finalizes plans and awards a contract to a private company to build and operate the toll lanes; and it is unclear whether the state will allow Montgomery County’s proposal to formally advance further in the environmental evaluation process.

“This process still has a long way to go,” Montgomery County Council member Evan Glass said.

The Maryland Board of Public Works, led by Hogan, approved a change to the plans this spring that would see toll lanes built on I-270 before any changes to the Legion Bridge or Capital Beltway.

“I’m hopeful that a thoughtful and thorough discussion and review of our alternative will show that the governor’s proposal is not the best way to increase mobility around the region,” Glass said.

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