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MDOT Chief: Montgomery Road Plan Will Receive ‘Same Level’ of State Analysis

I270, 495 Beltway, Rahn,
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn at a news conference in 2017 announcing the state’s proposal to widen the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. MDOT photo

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn pledged this week that his agency’s experts will give Montgomery County’s plan to ease traffic along the Interstate 270 corridor and the Capital Beltway a thorough review.

In a letter to the chairman of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board on Wednesday, Rahn assured the panel that the county’s alternative plan will receive the “same level” of analysis as the proposals the Maryland Department of Transportation developed last year.

Those 15 designs — eventually whittled down to seven — were crafted to advance Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s pledge to ease congestion in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties by widening I-270 and the Beltway (and eventually, perhaps, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway) two lanes in each direction.

“MDOT is committed to conducting additional analysis of [the county’s] submission to better determine its reasonableness,” Rahn wrote.

Rahn’s letter to the TPB was first obtained by Maryland Matters on Thursday.

Top state and county officials have sparred for months about Hogan’s 2017 plan for easing some of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Maryland, and Rahn’s letter quickly notes that elements of the MDOT plan have been incorporated in the Montgomery alternative.

“I am pleased to see the County Executive has recognized the need for a price-managed lane network as an essential means for delivering congestion relief…,” he writes.

(In reality, Montgomery County’s alternative was spearheaded by Councilmember Tom Hucker (D), chairman of the panel’s Transportation & Environment Committee. He then rallied leaders from Montgomery and neighboring counties, including Executive Marc B. Elrich, to support it.

Montgomery County’s alternative to MDOT’s plans focuses on expanding capacity on the American Legion Bridge, the southern-most portion of I-270, and the segment of the Beltway that connects the two.

It also proposes adding two reversible lanes on the northern portion of I-270. And it calls for new “managed lanes” — express toll lanes financed and built by private firms — on I-95 south of the Intercounty Connector (MD 200) and along the Beltway in Prince George’s.

In a sharp departure from the state’s plan, county leaders propose a more restrained set of improvements to the Beltway between the I-270 spur and I-95, limiting any repurposing of that stretch of I-495 to the existing right-of-way.

The Montgomery plan relies more on bus-rapid transit, expanded park-and-ride options, and carpool and telework incentives. It also envisions an increase in the number of motorists from the I-95 corridor willing to take the ICC, a toll road, to reach the American Legion Bridge and Northern Virginia, rather than drive on the over-congested but free Beltway.

Hogan’s plan has run into opposition from people who live along the Beltway who fear that their homes or yards, or nearby parkland, will be taken to expand the road.

It has also drawn the ire of transit advocates who view the plan as too focused on moving single-occupant vehicles.

Lastly, polling has shown that commuters fear that lower- and middle-income motorists will be unable to afford tolls that will be set by road builders looking to recoup their investment and turn a profit.

Supporters of the governor’s plan, including The Washington Post editorial board, warn that Maryland risks falling further behind Virginia in the regional competition for economic development. Rahn has called Virginia “a pioneer” in the use of public-private partnerships to expand its transportation capacity.

In pledging to run Montgomery County’s alternative plan thorough MDOT’s modeling, Rahn took pains to note that review does not mean acceptance.

“It is imperative that the integrity of the [National Environmental Policy Act] process not be compromised and equally important that MDOT’s commitment to analyze Montgomery County’s request not delay the State’s ability to deliver regional congestion relief,” he wrote.

He said the analysis will include “running the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s regional travel demand model (MWCOG 2040),” taking into account how the plan would impact the ICC, the completion of the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway and two bus rapid transit lines.

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MDOT Chief: Montgomery Road Plan Will Receive ‘Same Level’ of State Analysis