Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation pressed top Hogan administration officials on Thursday to share more information about plans to widen the American Legion Bridge, Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway (I-495).
The requests came during a briefing provided by state Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn and State Highway Administrator Greg Slater.
“I think they need to be much more forthcoming with information,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) told reporters after the session. “We all pressed them for more information.”
The closed-door briefing was generally cordial, but there were tense moments as well, particularly when Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D) sought to extract information about plans to use a Virginia-style “public-private partnership” to add four lanes to the frequently clogged Potomac River crossing, I-270 and the Beltway.
In a statement, Brown accused Hogan, his onetime rival, of trying to jam the project through the approvals process and of seeking to “build for the future with old ideas.”
“Governor Hogan is pushing forward with his Beltway expansion project without transparency, community support or a comprehensive vision for what Maryland’s transportation network will look like in the 21st century,” the lawmaker said.
“I have serious concerns that the Hogan Administration is withholding important information and steamrolling through this process with little input from residents and other stakeholders.”
Brown, who served two terms as lieutenant governor, lost to Hogan in the 2014 race for governor.
The briefing for Maryland’s federal representatives, held in a conference room inside the U.S. Capitol, touched on nearly a dozen transportation priorities, including the Bay Bridge resurfacing, the replacement for the Nice/Middleton Bridge in Charles County, continued federal funding for the Washington, D.C.-area’s Metro system and the proposed D.C.-to-Baltimore Maglev project.
Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R) expressed frustration about the backups caused by the Bay Bridge repaving project. And Van Hollen voiced disappointment about the state’s decision to offload the Maryland Department of Transportation’s long-planned Corridor Cities Transitway, a top priority for political and business leaders in Montgomery County, onto the county.
This week, Hogan (R) reluctantly agreed to pull a significant set of amendments to his road-widening “P3” from Wednesday’s agenda of the Board of Public Works. His decision followed requests from Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), who serves on the three-person panel, and more than 80 Democratic lawmakers to delay consideration of the changes for two weeks.
The governor declined to answer a transportation question at an Annapolis news conference Thursday on education policy. [See related story]
In an interview after the congressional briefing, Rahn described the meeting as “a general discussion of a lot of issues regarding transportation in the state.”
“They were engaged,” he said of the delegation. “It was not hostile.”
Brown requested 15 separate items from Rahn and his team relating to the road-widening project. Many overlapped with requests from local planners, who have grown so exasperated in their negotiations with MDOT that they are openly considering filing Maryland Public Information Act requests to obtain the information they are seeking.
“I’m not opposed to toll lanes,” Van Hollen said, “but I don’t think we should authorize the entire project without knowing what impact this is going to have on consumers and on the overall congestion.”
“We need transparency,” he added.
Franchot, thought to be the swing vote on the Board of Public Works, was briefed by Slater on Thursday.
He has pushed for the vote on MDOT’s amendments to be delayed until January, to give him, local officials and the public more time to digest the changes the Hogan team wants.
Despite the delay, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) predicted on Thursday that Hogan’s plan will ultimately prevail.
“Our area is in gridlock and I salute the governor for wanting to move forward,” he told Maryland Matters.
Virginia, he said, has “been very successful with their toll roads, very successful in terms of passing a gas tax, and starting to move traffic forward, especially in the Northern Virginia area. We need that same relief not just in the Washington metropolitan area but in Baltimore metropolitan area as well.”
Although he supports the governor’s proposal, Miller called Hogan “a loner” who unveils projects without consulting lawmakers or local leaders first.
“Legislators as well as county executives need to be bought into the plan,” the outgoing Senate leader said. “They need to be brought into the plan.”
While SHA has conducted public information sessions and solicited comments online, Miller said the state must do more to garner feedback.
“There need to be public hearings,” he said. “The public needs to be heard from. And none of that has taken place.”