‘We want to know what we’re buying’: Environmental critics tout bills for oversight of Beltway-270 toll lanes plan

As plans move forward for the addition of toll lanes on part of the Beltway and Interstate 270 in Maryland, some state lawmakers are backing a pair of bills that would put the plans under a microscope.

A group has already been selected to do pre-development work on the toll lanes project, but environmental critics don’t want to see the bills progress without an environmental impact study.

“So this idea with the highway project, that we’re going to commit to building the project before we do the study, is a perfect example of getting it backwards,” said Maryland Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s, at a virtual rally on Wednesday.

“The reason it’s important to have the environmental impact statement complete before we enter a contract with a private party is we want to know what we are buying,” added Del. Marc Korman, D-Montgomery.

The bills being considered would provide for more scrutiny of the toll lanes project in particular, and of public-private partnerships in general.

“We want to know more about the product before entering the P3, not less, and right now we’re going to know less about this project than we did about the Purple Line, when we entered that P3,” Korman said.

“The bills that we are discussing today will not stop the project, but they will help to bring about some much-needed reform to restore public confidence in our government, promote transparency, and make sure that our tax dollars are invested wisely,” said Lindsey Mendelson of the Maryland Sierra Club, which sponsored the virtual rally.

Last week, a group that includes Transurban, which operates toll lanes in Virginia, was selected for the pre-development work. That selection is subject to approval by the Maryland Transportation Authority Board and the Maryland Board of Public Works.

While the ball would already be rolling, an environmental study would still come before a possible long-term contract is agreed upon. That study is expected in the fall, and a 50-year contract could go before the Board of Public Works in 2022.

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, PA, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP sports.

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