Md. lawmaker calls for better accountability in I-495 and I-270 partnership

A Maryland lawmaker is pushing for more transparency and accountability in the I-495 and I-270 public-private partnership, as the state’s board of public works appears poised to select a contractor before environmental impact statements have been released.

In what state Sen. Joanne Benson has dubbed the Maryland Department of Transportation Promises Act of 2021, 10% of all toll revenue generated by public-private partnerships must be deposited in a special fund for transit projects once construction costs are accounted for.

Benson, who sponsored the bill, hopes the measure would “hold MDOT accountable to the agreements which were made.”

On Thursday, she told lawmakers the bill would not disrupt the construction or bidding process, only codifying “what the Hogan administration has said they will do” but not followed through on.

She pointed out it was only about a year ago that MDOT head Greg Slater told lawmakers the state wouldn’t go forward with contracts until the environmental impact statement, or EIS, was complete.

Now, with the EIS still incomplete, “MDOT has made clear they plan to bring a phased developer contract to the Board of Public Works this spring,” Benson noted. She also cited the state’s reversal on a bike lane across the new Nice-Middleton bridge linking Charles County with King George County in Virginia.

“The Department of Transportation does not always keep its promises, and this legislation ensures that it will,” Benson said. “It is obvious that if we want MDOT to keep its commitment, we must put this in writing.”

A lawyer for the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission also testified in favor of the bill, questioning the level of transparency from a different perspective.

“There really isn’t a good reason to rush the environmental review or permit process,” said Adrian Gardner, general counsel at MNCPP. “Our agency is no way opposed to a highway project in principal, but the state is not giving a hard look to so many critical pieces that it creates an immense risk.”

Testimony on the bill at the introductory hearing lasted about a half-hour. Only one person testified against it.

Elgar Gonzalez with the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, told lawmakers that passing this bill amid uncertainty about future budgetary issues introduces requirements to the project he sees as unnecessary and impractical.

“The main reason for our slow growth (in Montgomery County) is the existence of one of the most congested road networks in the nation,” said Gonzalez. He called the P3 toll lanes project “a game changer” for the region and the state.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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