Vote delayed on Beltway, I-270 tolls and widening

Maryland’s Comptroller Peter Franchot asked for a delay of a vote on the plan to widen the Capital Beltway and I-270 — and he got it.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who’s called the private-public partnership proposed for the project “transformative” for the entire region, agreed to remove the item from the agenda of the three-member Board of Public Works. The next time the issue could come up for a vote would be at the next board meeting on Dec. 18.

Hogan chairs the board; Franchot and Maryland State Treasurer Nancy Kopp also serve. Kopp said earlier in the week she agreed that delaying the vote on the proposal, which had been amended since it was first presented in June, would be a good idea.

Hogan was absent from the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday morning; Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford chaired the meeting.

Rutherford kicked off the meeting by joking, “I know it might be a little bit of a surprise to see me here versus the governor, but I got a call from the bullpen and came in to pinch-hit this morning. They needed a weak-armed right-hander, and so I’m here!”

Asked about Hogan’s absence, Communications Director Michael Ricci said it was “just a change of plans.” Ricci said previously, the governor’s decision to delay the vote was done as a courtesy to the Comptroller.

Speaking after the meeting, Franchot was asked what the delay of the vote accomplished.

“It will allow stakeholders in Montgomery County, elected officials and citizens, to understand the specifics of what the changes are” to what promises to be the largest public-private partnership road project in the country, he said.

The proposal, originally presented to the board in June, has undergone a number of amendments, including one that would allow the Maryland Department of Transportation to create a grant program “to distribute future funding for regional public transit agencies with services along the corridor.” That program would replace the initial proposal, which called for 10% of net state toll proceeds — after the contractor is reimbursed — to go to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties for regional transit services.

The proposed changes would also permit the agency to start buying private lands when they’re available, rather than waiting for environmental impact studies to be completed.

Along with the comptroller, a group of 84 Democratic state lawmakers called for the delay.

Franchot said his request for delay should not be seen as opposition to the project. “Am I in favor of adding capacity to the Beltway? Yes I am. But I want to make sure it’s done right.” He added, “To the extent it’s a multibillion public-private partnership, I want to make sure the taxpayers are protected.”

Franchot, who is considering a run for governor in 2022, was asked whether his request for a delay of the vote had anything to do with his plans for future political office. “That is essentially irrelevant to me,” he responded.

Franchot said because the approach of the public-private partnership on such a large scale is unique, “We want to make sure it’s done right, that it’s done in a transparent way, where it doesn’t appear rushed.”

Ricci previously said that the Hogan administration went “above and beyond” in providing local officials and area residents opportunities for input on the project “over the course of dozens of outreach events, workshops, meetings, hearings and briefings.”

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