Business leaders launch ‘grassroots’ group to back Hogan road plan

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A Maryland businessman long active in transportation issues has launched an effort to build support for the Hogan administration’s plan to ease road congestion in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Emmet Tydings, CEO of a Columbia telecommunications firm and member of a politically active family whose roots in the state date back hundreds of years, is the cofounder and chairman of a group calling itself Citizens4TrafficRelief.

In an interview, Tydings said the organization, a 501(c)(4), will focus on finding and mobilizing commuters who support the state’s plan to widen Interstate 495 (the Capital Beltway) and I-270.

“There are little people, like me, that aren’t transportation professionals, don’t have development interests, don’t own properties on right-of-ways, that will benefit with our families and our ability to get around the region better,” he said. “I like that the majority of citizens are in favor” of the state’s plans.

In 2017, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced plans to build “express toll lanes” on the two roads. The new lanes, two in each direction, would be financed and constructed by private-sector firms in exchange for the right to charge tolls of varying amounts for five decades or longer.

Existing lanes would remain free.

The private firms would also assume maintenance costs on the new and existing lanes, which would save the state billions of dollars in the decades to come, officials have said.

Although commuters in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties face some of the worst backups in the country, Hogan’s plan has run into significant political opposition and pushback from many activists and homeowners. Public opinion surveys have found general support for the governor’s initiative but also concern about future tolls.

Tydings said it’s time for supporters of Hogan’s proposal to have a voice — and to push back against what he called “misinformation” being spread by critics.

“I bristle a bit at a small minority of people sentencing myself and my kids and grandkids to decades of future congestion,” he said. “It’s time to do something and not nothing.”

The new organization’s website, Citizens4TrafficRelief.org, is expected to go live next week.

Because it is a 501(c)(4), contributions will not be tax deductible and organizers don’t have to identify their contributors.

C4TR is working with John Kane, a longtime Maryland businessman and former chairman of the state Republican Party.

“What we’re trying to do is put together enough grass-roots advocacy support for the silent majority” that back Hogan’s efforts, said Kane, now managing partner of ATON Strategies, an Annapolis government relations and public affairs firm.

“We want to then use that grass-roots advocacy to convey to the elected officials that this is something that they should look at.”

Tydings has long been involved in transportation advocacy. He has served on the Transportation Planning Board’s Citizens Advisory Committee, the Long Range Planning Task Force and the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance. In the interview he stressed that he uses the Washington-area’s Metrorail system “a lot” and has been a longtime advocate of the Bowie Mill Bikeway.

“I live the congestion and I use all modes,” he said.

Kane insisted C4TR is not a typical deep-pocketed corporate effort to sway public opinion.

“Groups like the [Greater Washington] Board of Trade are useless with this stuff,” he said. “They don’t have foot soldiers. They don’t have any grass-roots advocacy.”

Kane used to play a leadership role in the Board of Trade. That organization’s political action committee endorsed then-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) for reelection in 2010, when Kane’s wife, former Maryland assistant secretary of State Mary Kane, was the running mate to O’Malley’s Republican challenger, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Citizens 4 Traffic Relief has had a booth at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair since Friday, Tydings and Kane said, and they claim they are generating lots of support from mid-county and Upcounty residents who are weary of sitting in I-270 traffic.

But both men acknowledge that concern about steep tolls runs deep.

“The number one thing that we’re hearing is people are fearful of $40-plus tolls, like in Virginia on I-66, because they’ve seen it on the news,” Tydings said.

“I use the Intercounty Connector [highway] pretty much daily and my tolls are somewhere between 70 cents and $2.”

Tydings also said critics have exaggerated the number of homes and the amount of parkland that could be taken to widen the Beltway in eastern Montgomery County.

He noted that many of the Hogan administration’s critics backed the Purple Line, a light rail project that required the demolition of 160 structures, about a third of them private homes, far more than the worst-case scenario for the widening of the Beltway.

Tydings also faulted critics of the administration’s plan for failing to come to grips with the state’s lack of resources.

“Some people have said we could spend that $11 billion or $12 billion better by doing x, y and z. There is no $11 billion or $12 billion,” he said. “There is no money.”

Tony Hausner, who is active with Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, called the state’s plans “unfair.”

He said they would lead to an increase in vehicle use, harm the environment and produce “toll lanes [that] are going to be for the very wealthy.”

He said it’s “suspicious” that the new organization has formed as a 501(c)(4), which allows the organizers to shield the identity of their funders. “That raises some concerns.”

Former three-term Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett (D) “liked” the Citizens 4 Traffic Relief’s new Facebook page.

In an email to Maryland Matters, Leggett said, “I am not endorsing any particular project but believe we strongly need additional resources for transit and road projects, and John is a long time friend.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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