Montgomery County leader slams Gov. Hogan’s toll lane proposal

ROCKVILLE, Md. – The Montgomery County Council president slammed the governor’s proposal for $9 billion in new toll lanes on Interstate 270, the Capital Beltway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Roger Berliner said on Monday that county leaders did not get advance notice of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s suggestions, which were announced last week.

“We had no heads up, no communication whatsoever, with respect to this massive proposal,” Berliner said.

Widening I-270 and the Beltway by four lanes each could require land from hundreds of homes and businesses, Berliner said. “You really think that this is going to happen? I don’t think so.”

Echoing Council member Marc Elrich, Berliner said the Beltway plan could even encroach on Holy Cross Hospital and would face significant challenges crossing Rock Creek and other park land.

Berliner called the plan just an “opening salvo” from the governor, since even bids for these ideas would likely not come in until after the November 2018 election.

“It’s going to need a lot of fine-tuning to say the least,” Berliner said. “Bigger is not always better.”

Montgomery County has advocated for two reversible lanes in each direction on I-270 as a more realistic alternative than two lanes in each direction given the significantly heavier traffic in the peak direction at rush hour than for reverse commuters.

“And if you are concerned at all about the tolls, you want to make sure that what you’re doing is actually something that needs to be done and can be done,” Berliner said.

Hogan’s proposal did not include any plans to upgrade the American Legion Bridge.

“His proposal says, ‘I will take you to the American Legion Bridge’…but doesn’t say over the American Legion Bridge. This is the most significant choke-point in our entire region,” Berliner said.

The plan also did not address transit options to avoid the tolls or reduce the number of lanes that might be needed. Montgomery County had to “beg” the state, in Berliner’s words, just to keep the long-planned Corridor Cities Transitway alive north of Shady Grove.

“It’s like this idea sprung from the mind of Zeus without any collaboration, without any conversation with the communities most impacted and most affected,” Berliner said.

While Berliner is critical of the governor’s proposal, others have voiced support for it. The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce issued a statement after Hogan’s announcement last week, noting the chamber other groups “have called for these improvements for the past several years.”

Council members Nancy Floreen and Craig Rice have also praised the governor for getting the ambitious road projects moving.

With Marriott moving its headquarters from a highway-centered location closer to transit options, and Amazon looking for a transit-oriented spot for new headquarters, Berlner said transit is key to luring and keeping jobs in the future.

While Hogan has suggested Baltimore is Maryland’s best bet for the new Amazon headquarters competition, Berliner said the state should provide the same incentive package for all of its sites, including Montgomery County’s proposal.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce as well as other council members.

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