Hogan-Backed PAC Blames Montgomery Leaders for Impasse Over Toll Lanes

A screenshot from one of the Facebook ads Change Maryland has launched targeting three Montgomery County leaders who oppose Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s highway-widening plan.

A political action committee affiliated with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has launched a series of Facebook ads aimed at three Montgomery County leaders who have opposed his plan to add toll-funded “express” lanes to Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway.

The ads, sponsored by Change Maryland, the PAC that propelled Hogan to the governor’s office in 2014, target Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D), Council President Tom Hucker (D) and Del. Marc A. Korman (D).

They began running on Tuesday, according to Facebook.

Backers of Hogan’s proposal to add four privately financed “High Occupancy Toll” lanes to the two roads cheered his willingness to push back against the trio. Critics of the project said the ads are proof that opponents of the controversial project are having an impact.

The ads repeat Hogan claims that his proposal would end the capital region’s “soul-crushing traffic” without the use of public funds.

“Our Traffic Relief Plan will rebuild and widen the American Legion Bridge, which means more jobs and less traffic at no cost to the taxpayers. But Montgomery County politicians are trying to block all of our bipartisan progress,” one of the ads states.

“Don’t let them play partisan politics with fixing Maryland’s traffic crisis. Let County Executive Marc Elrich, County Councilman Tom Hucker, and State Delegate Marc Korman know that we’ve had enough of the soul-crushing traffic and demand that they stop blocking our Traffic Relief Plan.”

Another ad urges Facebook users to tell the three elected officials to “do the right thing for our environment and the right thing for Montgomery County by supporting this common-sense traffic relief plan.”

A third ad accuses the officials of playing “partisan politics with Montgomery County’s Traffic crisis.”

The officials named in the ads pushed back against Hogan’s claims.

“Montgomery County has been formally asking Gov. Hogan to fix the American Legion Bridge with our state tax dollars each year that he has been in office,” said Hucker. “And each year, he has refused to prioritize it in the budget. As everyone knows, Montgomery County officials have no legal authority over the Bridge or interstate highways.”

“No progress has been made on the fixes to the American Legion Bridge that we desperately need because of Governor Hogan’s refusal to fund its improvements,” Hucker added. “Running blatantly dishonest ads attacking local and state elected officials is beneath the office of the Governor.”

Korman, who co-chaired an occasionally tense hearing on Hogan’s plan on Tuesday, chided Hogan for his regular appearances on national cable-news programs.

He called the ads “about as accurate as Change Maryland’s other ads on this project, but I’m glad the Governor took a break from cable news to focus on our state.”

The ads also earned a rebuke from the Sierra Club, which accused Hogan of using them for “cover.”

According to Change Maryland’s Facebook advertising, “The Sierra Club and other leading environmental experts say that traffic is contributing to climate change,” and that Hogan’s plan would “clean up our air” and “fix” Montgomery’s traffic “crisis.”

Hogan “is trying to use Sierra Club’s name to push his highway boondoggle, which we vehemently oppose,” the organization said on Twitter on Friday. “The ad is simply false & Gov. Hogan knows it.”

The media blitz against the three Montgomery leaders comes at a crucial time for the project, which Hogan announced with great fanfare in 2017.

Last month, the capital region’s Transportation Planning Board removed the I-495/I-270 plan from a list of projects to be subject to a federal environmental analysis, a necessary step in the process. The Hogan administration and others are hoping to engineer a re-vote at the board’s July meeting.

In addition, a consortium that bid unsuccessfully on a $54 million “predevelopment” contract has protested the Maryland Department of Transportation’s decision to go with Acclerate Maryland Partners, a group backed by two Australian firms, toll-road operator Transurban and Macquarie Capital.

If the consortium, Capital Express Mobility Partners, loses its appeal as expected, a lawsuit is considered likely.

Elrich said he wondered how much money Transurban contributed to Change Maryland. A 501(c)(4), the PAC is not required to list its contributors.

David Weiman, a spokesman for Change Maryland, said the ads would continue until the TPB reverses its decision.

“We are working to make sure Montgomery residents know that the reckless actions of politicians in their county have put this critical and popular project and every other project throughout the region at risk,” Weiman said.

Critics of the MDOT’s plan have accused the agency of overstating the impact of the TPB vote on the state’s overall transportation program.

Edgar Gonzalez, head of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, said the unwillingness of Montgomery leaders to negotiate a compromise forced Hogan to take them on publicly.

“The soft approach hasn’t worked for them, I would imagine,” he said. “The other side has been playing hardball.”

Tony Hausner, the founder of Safe Silver Spring and a project opponent, called Hogan’s ads “very disturbing.”

“Clearly they are feeling the heat on this major boondoggle,” Hausner said.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.