Hogan Administration Drops Transit Options from Scheme for Privatized Toll Lanes on Beltway, I-270

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's GOP instinct for paving the world emerged unmistakably in the latest move by his state transportation department.

On February 14 an advocacy transportation group denounced a quiet move by Hogan’s ethically compromised transportation agency (MDOT) to formally drop all mass transit options from his big plan to add toll lanes to the I-495 Beltway and to I-270. It was a tacit admission by the Hogan administration that the vaunted public-private partnership scheme would be all about revenue for the private sector.

“Hogan admin rejects transit options preferred by public, limits I-495, I-270 plans to adding lanes -- announcement bulldozes public comments, concerns of highway neighbors,” said a Feb. 14 2019 news release from the MoCo citizens group “Don’t Widen 270.”

“The Hogan administration has announced its intention to limit its analysis of I-270 and I-495 options to those that add as many as four new lanes to one or both highways, and abandon consideration of rail, bus-rapid transit and bus-only lane options,” the organization’s’ release said.

The controversial project has elicited strong resistance from residents around the state who see it as an executive overreach and from the Democratic-majority General Assembly.

Public comments “quietly published” by the transportation agency “showed that the most preferred options are for any changes to stay within the existing footprints of the highways, and that transit solutions are preferred over adding lanes,” said “Don’t Widen 270.”

“Many have questioned how as many as four lanes could be added without having to pave over neighboring homes and properties,” the release added. “Throwing transit under the bus and limiting its focus to adding lanes, Governor Hogan’s administration is bulldozing over public opinion.” The organization argued that MDOT cited studies showing that “transit alone will not address the existing and long-term growth in the reason” as reason for dropping transit options from the plan, which is “counter to the finding they cite.”

Last October, the Washington Post and University of Maryland published a poll showing 54% of Montgomery and Prince Georges County voters oppose adding toll lanes to the two highways.

“This underscores the importance of our state legislators taking action to create more local oversight over the project, protect local residents and make sure MDOT is doing its homework correctly before putting out contracts to bid,” said Pete Altman, the citizen organization’s spokesperson. DontWiden270.org supports HB 102, which would require consent of a majority of affected counties before toll roads could be built through them; HB 663, which would prohibit taking homes in order to widen I-270 and I-495; and HB 91, which requires completion of the Environmental Impact Statement before submitting project bidding plans to the Legislature for review and the Board of Public Works for approval.

An earlier effort by freshman Del. Vaughn Stewart, one of our two DSA members in the House of Delegates, “would explicitly require a report assessing the carbon footprint of widened lanes compared to other solutions, such as applying the proposed public funds to mass transit to reduce Interstate congestion.” The bill is HB 695, the Transportation Climate Accountability Act.

“The goal, Stewart said, would be to ensure both that ambient air quality standards for ozone would not be exceeded and that the project would allow the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030, as laid out by the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016,” Maryland Matters reported in early January.

Hogan’s and MDOT’s move is likely meant to clear the field of inconvenient mass-transit considerations for the Republican Party-linked consultant firms reaping state money for wooing private partners for the toll road plans, several transit advocates suggest. Groups like the Maryland Sierra Club Transportation Committee have fought the plan from the beginning and see it as a total contradiction to the state’s recently signed compact with other Eastern seaboard states to collectively reduce the carbon emissions by transportation, the largest single source.

MDOT’s overview of the screened alternatives is here: https://495-270-p3.com/environmental/alternatives/screened-alternatives/ and a short video on the subject is here: https://495-270-p3.com/screened_alternatives_video/

This article first appeared on the Progressive Maryland BlogSpace Feb. 14

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