Montgomery Co. Council Urges Board to Delay Vote on Highway Project

    Hours before the Board of Public Works considers a design contract for the widening of Interstates 495 and 270, the Montgomery County Council asked top state officials to delay their vote.

    In a letter to the three-person board, lawmakers noted that Maryland’s public-private partnership law requires the state treasurer to analyze the impact of new projects on the state’s capital debt limits.

    Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) told the General Assembly she was unable to conduct a full review due to a lack of staff, and the Department of Budget and Management rejected her request for $100,000 to hire outside experts.

    “Regardless of one’s view of the policy merits of any project, the State should not enter into an agreement of this magnitude without due diligence to fully understand the contractual obligations we are assuming,” Council members wrote.

    “Careful study of the contract by the Bond Counsel and Financial Advisor is a necessary part of that due diligence.”

    The letter, which was signed by all nine members of the council, also urged the Hogan administration to fund Kopp’s staffing request.

    Last month, five members of the council urged the capital region’s Transportation Planning Board to reinsert the project into a federally mandated environmental review — a victory for one of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s top transportation priorities.

    Letters for and against the governor’s plan to build privately financed toll lanes in the D.C. area flooded into the  state’s public works board — made up of Hogan (R), Kopp (D) and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) — on the eve of Wednesday’s vote.

    Nearly 80 members of the General Assembly urged the board to put off the “predevelopment” contract and a second vote on a lease agreement.

    They cited the failure to provide a promised financial analysis, Kopp’s inability to conduct her review, and the pending release of a “supplemental” environmental review necessitated by recent changes to the state’s plan.

    “We are troubled by the lack of transparency and a rush to push the project forward before all of the facts about the P3 agreement and project are known,” lawmakers wrote.

    The head of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce beseeched state leaders to move forward with Hogan’s “traffic relief plan” without delay.

    “We plead with you [to] look beyond the political myopic arguments and objections of local and state elected officials in Montgomery County and see this project for the regional solution it really is,” Chamber CEO Richard B. Weldon, Jr., himself a former state delegate, wrote.

    In an email to Maryland Matters, he said Frederick County businesses and commuters “now find themselves political hostages of elected leaders in Montgomery County.”

    “I can assure you that if the tables were turned, Montgomery County elected officials would not stand for their counterparts in Frederick County delaying or impacting a desired major infrastructure improvement.”

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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.