Business Leaders Launch ‘Grass-roots’ Group to Back Hogan Road Plan

A Citizens for Traffic Relief informational booth at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. Facebook photo

A Maryland businessman long active in transportation issues has launched an effort to build support for the Hogan administration’s plan to ease road congestion in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Emmet Tydings, CEO of a Columbia telecommunications firm and member of a politically active family whose roots in the state date back hundreds of years, is the cofounder and chairman of a group calling itself Citizens4TrafficRelief.

In an interview, Tydings said the organization, a 501(c)(4), will focus on finding and mobilizing commuters who support the state’s plan to widen Interstate 495 (the Capital Beltway) and I-270.

“There are little people, like me, that aren’t transportation professionals, don’t have development interests, don’t own properties on right-of-ways, that will benefit with our families and our ability to get around the region better,” he said. “I like that the majority of citizens are in favor” of the state’s plans.

In 2017, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced plans to build “express toll lanes” on the two roads. The new lanes, two in each direction, would be financed and constructed by private-sector firms in exchange for the right to charge tolls of varying amounts for five decades or longer.

Existing lanes would remain free.

The private firms would also assume maintenance costs on the new and existing lanes, which would save the state billions of dollars in the decades to come, officials have said.

Although commuters in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties face some of the worst backups in the country, Hogan’s plan has run into significant political opposition and pushback from many activists and homeowners. Public opinion surveys have found general support for the governor’s initiative but also concern about future tolls.

Tydings said it’s time for supporters of Hogan’s proposal to have a voice — and to push back against what he called “misinformation” being spread by critics.

“I bristle a bit at a small minority of people sentencing myself and my kids and grandkids to decades of future congestion,” he said. “It’s time to do something and not nothing.”

The new organization’s website, Citizens4TrafficRelief.org, is expected to go live next week.

Because it is a 501(c)(4), contributions will not be tax deductible and organizers don’t have to identify their contributors.

C4TR is working with John Kane, a longtime Maryland businessman and former chairman of the state Republican Party.

“What we’re trying to do is put together enough grass-roots advocacy support for the silent majority” that back Hogan’s efforts, said Kane, now managing partner of ATON Strategies, an Annapolis government relations and public affairs firm.

“We want to then use that grass-roots advocacy to convey to the elected officials that this is something that they should look at.”

Tydings has long been involved in transportation advocacy. He has served on the Transportation Planning Board’s Citizens Advisory Committee, the Long Range Planning Task Force and the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance. In the interview he stressed that he uses the Washington-area’s Metrorail system “a lot” and has been a longtime advocate of the Bowie Mill Bikeway.

“I live the congestion and I use all modes,” he said.

Kane insisted C4TR is not a typical deep-pocketed corporate effort to sway public opinion.

“Groups like the [Greater Washington] Board of Trade are useless with this stuff,” he said. “They don’t have foot soldiers. They don’t have any grass-roots advocacy.”

Kane is a former chairman of the Board of Trade. That organization’s political action committee endorsed then-Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) for reelection in 2010, when Kane’s wife, former Maryland secretary of State Mary Kane, was the running mate to O’Malley’s Republican challenger, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Citizens 4 Traffic Relief has had a booth at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair since Friday, Tydings and Kane said, and they claim they are generating lots of support from mid-county and Upcounty residents who are weary of sitting in I-270 traffic.

But both men acknowledge that concern about steep tolls runs deep.

“The number one thing that we’re hearing is people are fearful of $40-plus tolls, like in Virginia on I-66, because they’ve seen it on the news,” Tydings said.

“I use the Intercounty Connector [highway] pretty much daily and my tolls are somewhere between 70 cents and $2.”

Tydings also said critics have exaggerated the number of homes and the amount of parkland that could be taken to widen the Beltway in eastern Montgomery County.

He noted that many of the Hogan administration’s critics backed the Purple Line, a light rail project that required the demolition of 160 structures, about a third of them private homes, far more than the worst-case scenario for the widening of the Beltway.

Tydings also faulted critics of the administration’s plan for failing to come to grips with the state’s lack of resources.

“Some people have said we could spend that $11 billion or $12 billion better by doing x, y and z. There is no $11 billion or $12 billion,” he said. “There is no money.”

Tony Hausner, who is active with Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, called the state’s plans “unfair.”

He said they would lead to an increase in vehicle use, harm the environment and produce “toll lanes [that] are going to be for the very wealthy.”

He said it’s “suspicious” that the new organization has formed as a 501(c)(4), which allows the organizers to shield the identity of their funders. “That raises some concerns.”

Former three-term Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett (D) “liked” the Citizens 4 Traffic Relief’s new Facebook page.

In an email to Maryland Matters, Leggett said, “I am not endorsing any particular project but believe we strongly need additional resources for transit and road projects, and John is a long time friend.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. “Business Leaders Launch ‘Grass-roots’ Group to Back Hogan Road Plan”

    Well, it didn’t take many words for this story to be revealed as such obvious BS.

    Pro tip: If “business leaders” are launching something, it’s not grass-roots and it sure as heck isn’t intended to benefit you and me.

  2. All very true. It’s time for the public to step up and endorse the Governors plan. No action means no solutions. Years of planning has produced only small relief projects and no grand plan. You can’t continue to operate and react only after problems become extremely evident. I strongly endorse the Hogan plan and this group assisting in that effort. GO TEAM!

  3. Not a word about the climate crisis and the need to shift to clean energy sources. Ostriches probably don’t make the greatest transportation planners.

  4. Charlie C., who are the “ostrich” transportation planners you refer to with your comment? Here’s some words on the climate crisis: There is one. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that on-road vehicles cause one-third of the air pollution that produces smog in the U.S.. Air quality has been improving in the Washington Metro region for years, but will improve more when faster moving traffic volumes produce lower emissions than slow moving traffic. Buses using the Express lanes will be more efficient than on any of the proposed BRT routes in MoCo. The fleet conversion to electric vehicles (EV) currently underway will reduce emissions. EV’s can be recharged by clean energy sources. Do you own or operate an automobile?

  5. JAD, small businesses fuel our economy. Can you elaborate on why an effort is “obvious BS” because a small business owner leads it? Are you saying all businesses and their owners are inherently BS? What basis establishes your statement as a “Professional Tip”?

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