Beltway toll lanes on hold; Md. set to OK toll lanes only over Legion Bridge, part of I-270

Maryland will no longer immediately pursue toll lanes around the Capital Beltway, and will instead only seek to put toll lanes across the Legion Bridge and up Interstate 270 to the Shady Grove area.

Under an agreement between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot released Friday, the two will vote to approve the new plan at a Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday. Treasurer Nancy Kopp has opposed the toll lane plans.

The deal will limit the initial contract with private companies to build and operate the toll lanes to an extension of the 495 Express Lanes from Virginia over a rebuilt Legion Bridge up I-270 to I-370.

Other toll lane construction previously proposed by the Hogan administration around the rest of the Beltway through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — or up I-270 through Frederick County to I-70 — would be deferred indefinitely. Those lanes would move forward only after separate Board of Public Works approvals.

The lanes around the Beltway have sparked some of the harshest pushback on the plans, including over concerns it could require widening the Beltway into homes or parkland.

“The only thing this project will do is put money in the hands of foreign investors,” said Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition Chair Ben Ross in a statement Friday. “Traffic will back up even more than it does now at the worst choke points — the I-270-Beltway merge at the Wisconsin Avenue exit and the northbound lane merges on I-270.”

“Releasing this plan on a Friday afternoon and rushing it through next Wednesday is completely unacceptable,” Ross added. “The public must get the facts before any commitments are made.”

In another change from the Hogan administration’s proposals this fall, the state will promise a degree of specific transit investments in the contract or contracts with the private company building the lanes.

The fall plans were pulled from the agenda after WTOP reported on the details.

Under the revised agreement, there is no change for HOV users from the earlier plan. Transit buses, but not necessarily other buses or HOV users, will be allowed to use the toll lanes for free.

The state is now promising not to buy any property for the road widenings before final contract approval.

Under the revised schedule, the Legion Bridge and I-270 contracting process would begin next month.

By June, the state would announce a shortlist of qualified companies or teams.

In July, the state plans to give those teams a draft request for proposals outlining specific contract requirements.

The final request for proposals would be released in December, with proposals due from the companies by February 2021.

A winning bidder would be selected in March 2021, with a contract due to be in place by May 2021. At least some construction could then start as soon as that summer.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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