Moore pledges to steer I-270/I-495 traffic relief efforts in a new direction

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Gov.-elect Wes Moore said on Friday that he will bring a sense of urgency to his efforts to ease congestion on two Montgomery County freeways. But he offered clear signals that his traffic relief strategy will differ dramatically from the one Gov. Larry Hogan has pursued for more than five years.

“We will not be another administration that just kicks this can down the road,” Moore (D) told an influential audience of Montgomery County business, government and non-profit leaders.

In 2017 Hogan (R) unveiled a multibillion-dollar plan to add four variably-priced toll lanes — two in each direction — to the entire length of Interstate 270, the Maryland side of the Capital Beltway and the federally-owned Baltimore-Washington Parkway. His plan was modeled closely on Northern Virginia’s decade-long efforts to expand capacity, which have relied heavily on an Australian firm, Transurban, financing and building toll lanes in exchange for the revenue they generate.

Although Hogan’s plan has shrunk considerably in response to local opposition, the Maryland Department of Transportation announced recently that it has granted Accelerate Maryland Partners, a consortium that includes Transurban, several extra months to finalize its recommendation. That decision effectively puts the project’s fate in Moore’s hands.

In remarks to the Committee for Montgomery’s annual legislative breakfast, the governor-elect said he will use the same “lens” on the I-270/I-495/American Legion Bridge project that he will bring to all transportation issues.

“(That) means addressing it through a lens of equity, i.e. who’s building it and who can benefit from it, addressing it through the lens of environmental protection — sustainable and environmental justice issues that have been neglected in the process — and also address it with a core understanding of what it means to move in partnership with local jurisdictions, local elected officials and local leaders,” he said.

Although he did not mention Hogan by name, Moore’s remarks echoed many of the complaints critics have leveled at the toll lanes proposal. Opponents charge that they would primarily benefit the wealthy and harm the environment, and they have accused Hogan and former transportation secretary Pete Rahn of springing their proposal on the county with little consultation.

The Committee for Montgomery’s annual breakfast brings together hundreds of the county’s business, political, advocacy group and non-profit leaders. Friday’s session was attended by more than 700 people, including U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Comptroller-elect Brooke Lierman (D). Moore aides asked on Thursday that he be allowed to address the group via video-stream because he wasn’t feeling well.

During a panel discussion, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said the county’s economy — the state’s largest — needs a “comprehensive transportation solution” if it is to live up to its true potential. He has long advocated for an extensive bus-rapid transit network, to give workers alternatives to driving solo. “We need the state to step up and provide us a transportation system that will let us get the workers” to their jobs, he said.

County Council Vice President Andrew Friedson (D) said he welcomed Moore’s comments about the toll lanes project. “We’ve got to solve problems, and the governor-elect is a problem-solver,” he said. “So we’re hopeful. And he’s committed to engaging us in the process.”

Friedson noted that Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller (D) is a traffic engineer who spent much of her career working for Montgomery County Government. (Miller had to cancel her speaking appearance at the breakfast due to cold-like symptoms, organizers said.)

In an interview, Elrich said the Hogan administration’s toll lanes plan “was blown up to be an expensive project that they could then justify the public-private partnership and then the massive tolls.” The executive said Maryland has the ability to ease traffic in the county without resorting to a 50-year contract with a private developer, particularly if the state wins federal infrastructure dollars to replace the American Legion Bridge.

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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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