The Prince George’s County Council is urging state leaders to conduct comprehensive environmental and financial reviews of the Hogan administration’s plans to widen the Capital Beltway before entering into any contracts with private-sector firms.
A resolution the panel adopted this week mirrors language that legislators opposed to the administration’s Interstate 495 and I-270 expansion plans attempted to pass in the General Assembly. That measure passed the House of Delegates but died in the state Senate.
The Prince George’s council resolution, which passed 9-0, urges the state’s Board of Public Works to require an “independent” assessment of the public-private partnership process the governor has proposed using to widen the two roads.
It also urged the board — comprising the governor, comptroller and treasurer — to require an environmental-impact statement before any contracts greater than $500 million are signed.
The state estimates it will cost between $9 billion and $11 billion to add two toll-only “express” lanes in each direction on the highways.
“The state has a lot more work to do on this one before we’re ready to move forward with the project,” said Councilmember Dannielle M. Glaros, a Democrat who chairs the panel’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.
“There’s no need to rush into the biggest P3 (public-private partnership) project in the country,” she said. “Let’s get it right.”
The council also approved a resolution reaffirming its opposition to the transfer of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from the National Park Service, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, to the state of Maryland.
At the 2017 announcement of his highway widening plan, Hogan unveiled plans to gain control of the parkway from the federal government and to expand it by two lanes in each direction.
“We still see the governor trying to advance transportation alternatives that haven’t been fully vetted and/or agreed to by local jurisdictions,” said Council President Todd M. Turner, a Democrat.
The vote on this resolution was 11-0.
Turner said the council is concerned both about Hogan’s road-widening plans and the talk of a federally-funded magnetic levitation train, known as Maglev, being built between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, though Prince George’s County neighborhoods.
‘We’ve been seeing a very top-down approach from state government,” Glaros said. “[Maryland Route] 295 goes through many of our communities. It was designed as a parkway. Any conversation about the transfer of it should involve the local communities and the local counties.”
State transportation officials insist that Maryland’s approach — in which private-sector firms fund construction and maintenance of the roads in exchange for the right to charge tolls on the new lanes — is necessary because MDOT lacks the money to do the projects itself.
“Anyone who is attempting to block this is hiding from the facts,” Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said during a wide-ranging interview in Annapolis on Wednesday.
“We’re attempting to address [our congested roads] as a system, so it’s not just a piece here and a piece there.”
In a letter late last week, Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich, a Democrat and a vocal critic of the state’s plans, urged the county Planning Board to effectively block Maryland’s road-widening efforts by refusing to make available the undeveloped county-owned parcels that would be needed to complete the widening projects.
“I am writing to ask that you do not cede any parkland to the state of Maryland for any project that would widen the beltway,” Elrich wrote.
“Many of our parks, trees and streams are in an increasingly fragile state. We should take all necessary steps to protect these resources as part of our efforts to maintain clean water and air and to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.”
Rahn, who indicated he is aware of the criticism from elected officials, planners and citizens in the two counties, insisted that the state’s responsibility to facilitate the flow of commercial, commuter and interstate traffic on the Beltway and 270 requires the bold approach Hogan has laid out.
“We are proceeding with express-toll lanes. We’re going to do it responsibly. We’ll do it within the confines of [the National Environmental Policy Act], and we have made commitments about how we’re going to do as little impact as we possibly as can. … But we must do something and we must act now.”