Proposed toll lanes for Interstate 270 and parts of the Capital Beltway are back on a list of long-term transportation plans for the D.C. area.
Members of the D.C. region’s Transportation Planning Board reversed last month’s action to remove the toll plan when they cast their votes Wednesday afternoon.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — who proposed a massive public-private partnership that includes tolls on the Capital Beltway and I-270 as a way to alleviate traffic congestion — called the vote “a great victory for Marylanders sick and tired of being stuck in soul-crushing traffic.”
Hogan’s plan would add toll lanes to segments of the Capital Beltway, and in two phases along I-270 — first from the spur to Interstate 370 and then from I-370 up to Interstate 70 in Frederick. The multibillion-dollar project would also include replacing the American Legion Bridge, a major chokepoint for commuters in the region.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a vocal critic of Hogan’s plan, offered a last-minute amendment during Wednesday’s vote at the TPB, but it was rejected.
Elrich said after the vote by the board that he had heard the arguments about “people being stuck in soul-crushing traffic,” but he said supporters of the tolls “don’t tell you that the people who don’t pay the tolls will still be stuck in soul-crushing traffic.”
While Elrich and Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton continued to push against any reversal, Maryland State Sen. Nancy King spoke in favor of getting the public-private partnership project back on track.
King, who represents Montgomery County, told her colleagues on the board that the project is needed.
“I happened to be in rush hour on 270 this morning, and I’d like to invite anybody that would like to come up and drive with me on that anytime,” King said.
The day before Wednesday’s vote, five Montgomery County Council members — Gabe Albornoz, Andrew Friedson, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer — indicated that they would support the plan, since getting a letter from Maryland Secretary of Transportation Greg Slater offering funding for bus rapid transit projects along Maryland state Route 355 and I-270.
Deputy Transportation Secretary R. Earl Lewis wrote to the TPB after the June 16 vote to remove the toll project from consideration. Lewis said that without the public-private partnership funding, as many as 15 transportation projects could be “downgraded” or removed from consideration by the state. That list included projects in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Maryland State Del. Marc Korman told his fellow TPB members that he hoped that if they supported restoring the toll lanes on Wednesday, they were doing it because they believe in the merits of the plan.
“If you’re changing your vote because of new promises, that’s a mistake because there are no new promises. If you’re changing your vote because project funding was threatened, that’s a mistake. No project funding was threatened. What was threatened was a line item and a long-range plan, many of which have been in there since I was in high school.”
David Snyder, a Falls Church City Council member, voted in favor of the plan to restore the toll project to the TPB’s long-range plan.
“There are a lot of our transit projects along (Interstate) 495 that will run into a wall of gridlock on the American Legion Bridge unless some action is taken,” Snyder said.
Matt Letourneau, a member of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors, also favored restoring the toll lanes to the long-range plan. He referred to Virginia’s experience with toll lanes, saying that tolls “certainly have their pros and their cons, but there is no denying that they have certainly contributed to our success and economic growth and helping to move more people.”
The projected cost of tolls to drivers using the proposed toll lanes also came up, with Newton arguing, “I don’t think anybody realizes what the tolls will really be. They are estimated to be $50 one way from 370 to the American Legion Bridge during rush hour.”
Slater said a staff analysis showed that “the weekday average tolls are projected to be around $4.42 northbound per trip, and $3.44 southbound per trip.” He said average tolls in Virginia on I- 495 and Interstate 95 are between $5 and $8 dollars respectively.
The next hurdle for the project, a vote before the three-member Maryland Board of Public Works.
Hogan chairs the board. Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp also sits on the board, and she had asked for funding to carry out a required analysis of the public-private partnership project, but was denied. Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is running for governor, also sits on the Board of Public Works and is seen as a swing vote on the panel.