Md. lawmakers, groups weigh in on plans to put toll lanes on Legion Bridge, part of I-270

The amended plans to hold off on widening the Capital Beltway and instead focus on the American Legion Bridge and Interstate 270 are the result of talks with “local partners,” according to Maryland’s Transportation Secretary-designate Gregory Slater.

No homes will be taken under the amended proposal that would widen the American Legion Bridge and add toll lanes from the bridge along I-270 to Gaithersburg, Slater said.

There may be some “strip impacts” on the route — the land adjacent to I-270.

“Under our bid proposal, we’ll be looking to the private sector to minimize that, but there are no homes themselves being impacted,” Slater said.

Critics of the amended plan — which will go before the Maryland Board of Public Works and new community groups coalition Maryland Advocates for Sustainable Transportation or MAST Wednesday— said it is flawed.

MAST, which includes the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Maryland Sierra Club, called for an independent review of the proposal.

The statement from the group stated in part, “Research and experience shows that adding highway capacity inevitably leads to more vehicles on the road,” and expanded highways fill up in as few as five year.

Instead, MAST wants to see increased spending on transit, and is supporting a bill to increase capital investment in transit projects.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, who has sparred with the Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration over the original proposal to widen the Capital Beltway and I-270, said he applauded the announcement by the State to revise the plans for (Interstate) 495 and I-270.

The amended proposal puts new emphasis on transit, and while many details are yet to be worked out, Elrich said the new proposal is more closely aligned with Montgomery County’s master plans and has the potential to be far more environmentally responsible.

The changes to the public-private partnership proposal, announced by Hogan on Friday afternoon, states that “specific transit investment will be provided as part of the P3 agreements” and counties affected by the project will be “guaranteed the transit service improvements.”

Hogan said he and state Comptroller Peter Franchot had arrived at a “major bipartisan agreement” to vote in favor of a traffic relief plan for the region.

In December, Franchot withdrew support for the plan before the Maryland Board of Public Works until the costs and transit plans could get additional study.

Hogan and Franchot are members of the board of public works, which also include Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who did not support the earlier proposal, instead suggesting more emphasis on transit.

Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker, said the changes being proposed to the P3 plan “are two big steps in the right direction” and said he believed pressure from local governments and residents, along with the concerns raised by Franchot, were responsible for the change in plans.

Hucker said the county has promoted improving I-270 “going back to at least 2011.” The plan to dedicate toll revenues toward transit “is exactly what’s needed” to relieve the choke points along the route from Maryland into Northern Virginia, Hucker said.

The amended proposal would create a memorandum of understanding to establish the transit plans.

“That gives the county a seat at the table that we have not had before today, so that’s an improvement, as well,” Hucker said, adding that the plan is “not a final deal; this is a reset of the project, and a reboot of the relationship with MDOT that we’ve been asking for.”

Referring to future plans to add tolls and widen the Capital Beltway, Slater said that the current emphasis is on the American Legion Bridge and I-270.

“It would be a guess if I said anything about that at this point. Essentially what we’d like to now is move forward with the 270 piece and then just continue to collaborate and not rush that conversation,” Slater said.

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