Montgomery Co. lawmakers quiz acting transportation secretary on Capital Beltway expansion plans

Several Montgomery County, Maryland, lawmakers spent part of a briefing with state transportation officials pressing for information on the Department of Transportation’s plans regarding the expansion of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270.

Acting Secretary of Transportation Gregory Slater appeared before the House Appropriations Committee for a briefing Friday afternoon. He was asked a series of questions about the state’s public-private partnership plans for the Beltway and I-270.

Del. Kirill Reznik asked Slater what needs to be included in the project’s contract to ensure taxpayers won’t be funding the work.

When a contract is negotiated, the legislature reviews it before it returns to the Board of Public Works, Slater said.

Reznik made clear he wasn’t satisfied with that response.

“I appreciate that it might come back to us, but we have no authority to stop it,” Reznik said. “We have no authority to change it, we have no authority to do anything but look at it, which frankly is, at the moment, unacceptable.”

Del. Jared Solomon asked Slater during the briefing where questions about the status of a construction project should be directed.

“I would love to say that you should be able to come to us and we can all work together on trying to find a solution to whatever challenge that comes up,” Slater said.

Slater also said that he is open to sharing “term sheets,” documents related to the project, with lawmakers before approval.

Del. Marc Korman also asked questions about the project.

Korman, Reznik and Solomon are all members of the “Transit Caucus,” a group of lawmakers hoping to bring more attention to funding transit projects in the state.

They also support legislation aimed at giving the Maryland General Assembly more authority over the contracts that involve the public-private partnership funding formula.

After the briefing, both Reznik and Solomon said while they’re still concerned about the long-term liability the state might have as a result of public-private partnerships, they still had praise for Slater.

Both noted Slater is more open to collaboration than his predecessor, Pete Rahn.

While Reznik said he’d like additional details about the project from Slater, he is remaining optimistic about the flow of communication.

“I’ve known the acting secretary for a long time,” Reznik said. “I trust him, and I think we have the beginning of an understanding of how this is going to go forward.”

Slater was pleased to hear lawmakers are willing to work with the department on the project.

“You can’t develop the best solutions unless every voice is at the table,” Slater said.

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