Montgomery Officials Ponder Ways to Put Brakes on Hogan Beltway Plan

Montgomery County leaders may be seeking more say over a proposal by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

Hours after the new Montgomery County executive made an off-handed remark this week about opposing Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s proposal to widen the Capital Beltway, county officials began debating legislation that could give them more say about whether Hogan’s plan will ever come to fruition.

State Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr. (D) has introduced a local bill that would require state officials to get the county’s approval before they can build a toll road through Montgomery County.

Carr said his legislation is modeled after a 40-year-old state law that gives certain Eastern Shore counties say if the state wants to build a toll road through them. That legislation, Carr said, anticipated the possibility of a second Chesapeake Bay crossing, which presumably would run through any number of Shore counties if one is ever built.

Carr’s legislation, which has been co-sponsored so far by two delegates and three incoming Montgomery County House members, will be one of several local bills that the county delegation considers at a public hearing in Rockville on Dec. 17. But it got a brief airing at a County Council meeting this week.

“This bill is a response to constituent concerns about the governor’s fast-track plan to widen the Capital Beltway, which runs through my district,” Carr told Council members.

Hogan in the fall of 2017 unveiled a plan to widen the Beltway and Interstate 270 in Montgomery County, along with the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. While state officials have yet to release many details about the proposals, Hogan has suggested that the roads could be widened through a public-private partnership that relies on revenues from optional toll lanes to pay for the projects.

Elected officials in Montgomery County seem split on the concept of widening the Beltway and 270 – never mind the particulars. But there is near universal agreement that they do not want to see any houses razed to make way for wider roads. Hogan administration officials have vowed that this will not be necessary.

But several Montgomery political and civic leaders remain skeptical – which is the major impetus behind Carr’s legislation.

“The intent is to strengthen your hand as a county government,” Carr told council members, adding that he introduced his bill as a way of “starting the discussion.”

During his inaugural address Monday, new Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D), speaking about his desire to protect the environment, slipped in what appeared to be an ad-lib: “Note to the governor: No Beltway widening.”

But Carr’s proposal met with a mixed reaction in the Council. Councilman Hans Riemer (D) said the legislation “raises a lot of issues,” and questioned whether it would hurt Montgomery County’s leverage with the state as county leaders begin to address traffic problems. He reminded his colleagues that they are scheduled to meet with state highway officials about the project in January.

“I worry a little bit that this is an overplaying of our hand and might prevent us from getting what we really want, which is to keep the project within its existing right of way and to include a transit component,” Riemer said.

But Councilman Tom Hucker (D) argued in favor of Carr’s legislation, noting that the bill can be amended if county leaders want to take other considerations into account — including the dynamic of the upcoming General Assembly session, which is still a month away.

“Remember,” Hucker told his colleagues, “the governor didn’t consult with us when he put out this proposal” for widening the interstates in the county.

With the public hearing still 10 days away, the Council put off a decision on whether to put its weight behind Carr’s legislation. Melanie Wenger, director of the county’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, said Elrich supports the measure, with some adjustments.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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