Md. Delegation Seeks More Transparency on Highway Projects

    Maryland’s congressional delegation is urging the man who will soon take over as head of the state Department of Transportation to be more forthcoming about the Hogan administration’s plan to expand two Washington, D.C.-area highways  — and to make a stronger commitment to mass transit.

    On Wednesday lawmakers sent a letter to State Highway Administrator Greg Slater urging him to provide “more information and greater transparency” in the Maryland’s plans to ease congestion on Interstates 270 and 495.

    The letter is a follow-up to a briefing that Slater and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn provided to Maryland’s U.S. senators and House members early this month. Since that session, Rahn announced plans to retire. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has tapped Slater to take Rahn’s place on Jan. 10.

    “The public deserves more information and greater transparency in the process of planning, constructing, and implementing any projects for widening I-270, widening the [Capital] Beltway, and replacing the American Legion Bridge … more details on how and when specific properties will be affected, where tolling may impact on-ramps and exit ramps, how parkland may be impacted, and the details of the environmental impact assessments,” the lawmakers wrote.

    “In our meeting with you and Secretary Rahn, we were clear about the need to plan for public transit in conjunction with any expansion of our highways for vehicle traffic … We are eager to hear in greater detail how multi-modal plans will be integrated in these projects, including the guidelines you would establish for incorporating transit into any public-private partnership to construct and manage new toll lanes.”

    Hogan has proposed adding four lanes to the two highways and the bridge as a way of easing traffic tie-ups that are among the nation’s worst. His plan — to have private firms finance, build and maintain the new lanes in exchange for the right to charge varying tolls for the next 50 years — has generated pushback from local office-holders and many area residents concerned about homes being taken, pollution and increased traffic.

    While members of Congress have no formal role in whether Hogan’s plan moves forward, the Democrats who dominate the state’s congressional delegation share the concerns that certain state legislators have expressed — that not enough is known about how the Maryland Department of Transportation intends to make the plan a reality.

    Earlier this month more than 80 members of the General Assembly urged the state’s Board of Public Works to delay a vote on amendments to Hogan’s plan. They want a larger role for transit in MDOT’s approach to congestion relief, a plea echoed in the letter from federal lawmakers.

    “A comprehensive look at our dynamic, diverse, and growing region makes clear that our transportation infrastructure needs cannot be met with a narrow, vehicles-only approach, but require a comprehensive, multi-modal strategy,” legislators wrote.

    “Integrating public transit improvements into any projects on I-270, the Beltway, and the American Legion Bridge is of critical importance to providing greater mobility, improving the quality of daily life of our constituents, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Lawmakers also urged Slater to focus on the challenges faced by commuters in the Baltimore region.

    “Baltimore has long suffered from severe traffic bottlenecks that undermine its economic competitiveness, and we hope to hear your thoughts on a comprehensive, long-term, and multi-modal strategy to address this challenge.”

    This week on Facebook, Len Foxwell, chief of staff to Comptroller Peter V. R. Franchot (D), suggested he and Hogan hold a town hall meeting in Montgomery County, so residents could learn more and offer comments on the state’s $11 billion highway plan.

    Michael Ricci, Hogan’s director of communications, rejected the suggestion that MDOT has failed to engage the public.

    “The state’s outreach on this project to date includes at least 57 community association meetings, 33 legislative briefings, 22 landowner meetings, 20 public workshops, and 14 community events,” he said in a statement.

    “No project in recent memory has been more openly discussed, debated, studied, scrutinized, examined, or analyzed.”

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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.