Transurban announces it will exit proposed toll lane expansion
An Australia-based company that was the lead partner in a plan to build toll lanes to widen I-270 and parts of the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County announced that they will exit the project.
Transurban, lead partner in a consortium known as Accelerate Maryland Partners, issued a statement Thursday evening — the start of the Friday business day in Australia — announcing it will not proceed with the project.
The announcement comes less than two weeks before the company was required to meet a key deadline and submit its design and finance plans for the project.
In a statement, the company said the project faced challenges including delayed environmental approvals, “a changing political landscape,” and unresolved lawsuits.
“Transurban is disappointed that we were unable to reach agreement with Maryland to deliver the critical congestion relief that travelers across the region need and want. We respect Maryland’s decision to pursue alternatives – whether that is in project scope, delivery, or partnership,” said Tanya Sheres, a spokesperson for Transurban North America. “As a long-term partner to governments in the region for more than a decade, we will continue to take a collaborative approach, working towards more connected travel choices across the Capital Region.”
Sheres said the company does not believe it is responsible for development rights fees. She was “not aware of any plans for litigation.”
The project, first proposed by former Gov. Larry Hogan (R), was considered to be the largest public-private partnership in the nation.
Transurban and the members of the consortium received an initial predevelopment contract for the project and was considered a favorite to build and manage the expanded highways. The private consortium would recoup the cost of the project — estimated at $7.6 billion — over 50 years through toll collection. At the end of the term, the toll lanes would have reverted to the state.
Gov. Wes Moore (D) has made it clear since last year that he sought a change of direction in the plan.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement that his agency was “committed to delivering a new American Legion Bridge and transportation solutions that relieve traffic congestion throughout this corridor and promote equity and environmental protection.”
Wiedefeld promised a renewed effort to meet with residents and local leaders in the wake of the contract decision.
Moore’s office offered a brief written statement after the company’s press release Thursday evening.
“The termination of the Phase P3 Agreement has no bearing on the approved federal Record of Decision for Phase 1 South or the state’s commitment to addressing congestion issues affecting the region,” Moore’s statement read, in part. “Because AM Partners executed its contractual right to not proceed, MDOT does not owe any payment to AM Partners. The state remains committed to continuing progress and will move forward in a manner that ensures social equity, environmental protection, and engagement with local partners while always acting in the best interest of taxpayers.”
Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) greeted the news with a measure of optimism.
“P3s are an executive driven process. If this is where the P3 is, we need to work together and see what’s next,” said Korman. “I trust we will now have a more honest and cooperative process.”
Ben Ross, founder of the Maryland Transportation Opportunities Coalition and a leading critic of the toll lanes plan, expressed hope for an updated plan in the region.
“It’s fantastic news. It means that we can start building a really balanced transportation system in Maryland, where it’s as easy to get around by transit as it is by driving,” Ross said.
Bruce DePuyt and Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.