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Lawmakers Eye Bills to Constrain Hogan Highway Plan as Hundreds Rally

Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker organized a rally last night for opponents of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s plans to widen two interstate highways. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Several state lawmakers vowed on Monday to pursue legislation that would constrain, and possibly thwart, Hogan administration plans to widen two Washington, D.C.-area highways. They offered their vows at a standing-room-only rally in Silver Spring, a community where opposition to the state’s plans runs hot.

Two hours before the event, Hogan took to social media to tout the results of a recent poll that showed his plan to widen the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 — when framed in a certain light — remains popular with vast segments of the public.

Approximately 300 people attended the standing-room-only gathering at the Silver Spring Civic Center. Federal, state, county and municipal officials — all Democrats — took turns savaging the Republican governor’s plan to add two lanes to the two highways and the American Legion Bridge, saying doing so would encourage more people to drive, harm the environment and result in tolls that only affluent commuters could afford.

There were repeated requests for a more “balanced” approach in which transit options expanded alongside road capacity.

Members of Hogan’s team watched the rally via live-stream.

Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery) and Del. Julian Ivey (D-Prince George’s) said they would again introduce legislation to give county officials in the D.C. suburbs the same power that local leaders on the Eastern Shore have — the ability to block toll projects they oppose.

Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery) said he would seek to strengthen state law governing “public-private partnerships” such as the one Hogan has proposed for I-495 and I-270. He called the current system “broken.”

“We should not be on pins and needles over two people in the State of Maryland,” he told the crowd, an apparent reference to Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D), members of the three-person Board of Public Works who could force changes to the state’s approach.

The crowd applauded as speaker after speaker heaped scorn on Hogan’s plan.

Montgomery County Council member William Jawando (D) said it “does nothing to reduce miles travelled or tailpipe emissions, which are critical to meeting our county’s climate goals.”

He slammed Hogan for backtracking on a 2018 pledge not to take any homes or businesses for the project, a point state transportation officials concede.

Jawando also claimed that express toll lanes would “only be available to the wealthiest residents. … This is a scam,” he said to cheers.

Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) called the Hogan P3 “a huge boondoggle” that wasn’t put together thoughtfully. “This is a serious mistake on the governor’s part,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D), who lost to Hogan in the 2014 gubernatorial race, lit into the governor and his proposal with relish, saying it lacked breadth. Brown said a more “innovative” plan would include more rail, bus-rapid transit, telework and transit-oriented development.

“Gov. Hogan, it’s antiquated. It’s outdated. It’s stale. It’s small-minded,” Brown taunted. “It doesn’t demonstrate our commitment to the environment. It’s unacceptable.”

Just before the rally, Hogan took to Twitter to tout public support for his proposal.

According to supporting data provided separately by the governor’s staff, a survey he commissioned in early December found that 65% of Maryland residents support his approach, while 24% oppose it. Ten percent had no opinion.

Nearly 70% of D.C.- area voters favored his plan, compared with 24% who oppose it.

The poll, conducted by Ragnar Research Partners, surveyed 600 randomly-selected likely voters and had a margin of error of 4%.

Question 24 from the Hogan-funded survey asked respondents whether they supported “a proposal to relieve traffic congestion on the state’s busiest highways, by widening the Capital Beltway, the American Legion Bridge, and Interstate 270 with new voluntary express toll lanes, while keep keeping all existing lanes free.”

It is unclear whether the survey, conducted Dec. 3-5, made any reference to the cost of future tolls or the loss of homes and parkland. Critics claim that the traffic relief obtained by adding lanes is often temporary.

“We acknowledge that 14% strongly oppose our traffic relief plan, and they continuously hold rallies and protests,” said Michael Ricci, Hogan’s communications director.

“But after 30 years of no solutions and 3.5 years of delays, nearly 70 percent of Montgomery and Prince George’s voters support it and want action now,” he added. “Our interstate agreement with Virginia gives us a historic opportunity to fix the entire Capital Beltway and solve the region’s biggest problem.”

In the near term, Hogan’s biggest problem is repairing his tattered relationship with Franchot, a longtime ally.

Franchot has fought successfully for more time to consider a complex series of amendments the Department of Transportation wants added to the plan that passed the Board of Public Works in June. His team has signaled publicly and privately that he is highly resistant to many of the changes — he and considers some of them to be a repudiation of commitments he bargained for last spring.

Brown, Elrich, Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D), who organized the rally, and others told the crowd that their presence — and their continued opposition — had altered the trajectory of the debate.

“No one expected us to be here still fighting today,” Hucker said. “But Gov. Hogan and MDOT underestimated your expertise. They underestimated your commitment. They underestimated your ability to organize and to successfully oppose this irresponsible proposal.”

Despite the harsh rhetoric at the rally, Hucker expressed optimism that local officials would be able to craft a better working relationship with Gregory Slater, Hogan’s choice for transportation secretary, than they had with outgoing MDOT chief Pete K. Rahn.

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Lawmakers Eye Bills to Constrain Hogan Highway Plan as Hundreds Rally