Maryland has a long list of transportation projects it needs to get done and not nearly enough money to pay for it all. That’s the annual lament and a source of constant frustration for county, city and state leaders who continue to clamor for various upgrades and redesigns from Fort Washington to Laurel and everything in between.
But at a presentation given by Maryland transportation officials to Prince George’s County Council, county and state leaders spoke about one project they didn’t want to see happen.
“Prince George’s County is against toll lanes, and we want to make sure that they don’t come to Prince George’s County,” argued Council member Jolene Ivey.
She and others were referring to Virginia’s 495 Southside Express Lanes Study, which would continue toll lanes from where they end in Springfield over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge into Maryland. At the moment the state is supporting Virginia’s study and that drew skepticism from those who gathered in Largo for the presentation.
“I can tell you that we are not in support of what’s currently being proposed,” said District 8 Council member Ed Burroughs, whose district includes the area around the Wilson Bridge. He also faulted Virginia for how it was publicizing public meetings about the project and how it would affect Maryland.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld hinted that Maryland and Virginia will be taking different views about improvements to get more people over the Potomac River, saying the state was pushing for rail service to also be part of the options going over the bridge. And he described himself as “in lockstep” with the county.
“We’re in agreement,” Wiedefeld said. “We’re basically working with VDOT. We’ve got to make sure that they’re looking at multimodal transit solutions across that bridge.”
“We have a different view in Maryland of what those lanes are built for,” he added.
Wiedefeld said the state would fight to make sure there would be room for future rail lines, something other state leaders acknowledged was a priority in Prince George’s County.
Barbara Coufal, who leads the group Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, warned any toll lanes coming over the bridge would cause tie-ups in Maryland, while preventing Metro from ever expanding the Blue Line from National Harbor into Virginia. At the moment, that’s nothing more than an idea being studied, and would be many years away from happening.
“The toll lanes would take up the space on the bridge reserved for rail,” Coufal warned. “VDOT claims that toll lanes could be converted to rail in the future. That’s not believable, that Transurban would agree to build and then give up toll lanes.”