Beltway toll lane project goes for vote

Maryland’s three-member Board of Public Works will vote Wednesday on Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal to create managed toll lanes that — at the completion of the project — will stretch from the American Legion Bridge, along a segment of the Capital Beltway, and up Interstate 270 to Frederick.

What’s unusual about the meeting before the BPW is the number of people signing up to speak before the panel in Annapolis.

John Gontrum, the executive secretary for the board, said by Tuesday afternoon, as many as 49 people signed up to speak at the meeting. Each would have two minutes to speak before the panel, which has discretion as to whether to allow public comment before a vote.

The board is voting on two contracts: one allows for “predevelopment” engineering and design for the first phase of the project which runs up I-270 to Interstate 370 in Gaithersburg.

The second contract would create a 60-year lease agreement that allows for the privately financed toll lanes up to Frederick.

Among those hoping to address the Board of Public Works is Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, who wrote in a letter Monday to board members that “rejecting the P3 approval for any activity is the only responsible action the BPW can take at this juncture.”

Elrich added that any action on contracts is “premature,” as financial analysis of the proposal is still needed. He did acknowledge that “some type of toll financing might be appropriate,” but it could depend on the results of further analysis.

Solomon agreed, saying no contract should be approved until more study — specifically a fiscal review — is completed.

“It’s sort of crazy to me that we’re potentially entering an agreement worth upwards of several billions of dollars here without a full and expert review” Solomon said.

Solomon referred to Treasurer Nancy Kopp’s concern that her office was denied a funding request to help with the contract review. Getting added expertise, said Kopp in her July 9 letter, could “facilitate a more robust review of future P3 agreements.”

Elrich will join opponents of the plan at a news conference before the board’s 10 a.m. meeting. Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton and Del. Jared Solomon will speak at the news conference, along with representatives of the Maryland Sierra Club, the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Citizens Against Beltway Expansion.

Supporters also plan to speak at the meeting, including Michael Sakata, CEO of the Maryland Transportation Builders & Materials Association.

Sakata said the multibillion-dollar project is badly needed. Along with creating managed toll lanes, the plan would replace the aging American Legion Bridge.

“The bridge is nearing its 60th birthday. It’s structurally deficient. All parties, and everyone agrees: it needs to be replaced,” Sakata said.

Sakata said it appeared to him that requests to hold off on a vote were “delaying tactics” and that “at some point, we all have to realize not doing something is affecting everybody.” He added, “It’s about time to move forward on this project.”

The three members of the Board of Public Works include Hogan, Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot.

Franchot is running for governor as a Democrat, and his vote is considered the swing vote on the three-member board. Kopp has consistently raised questions about financing and environmental concerns. In 2019, during prior discussions of the Capital Beltway and I-270 project, Franchot offered amendments to the plan before agreeing to vote in favor of the project.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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