By William J. Ford
Dozens of area residents railed Thursday against a proposal to expand the Capital Beltway in Maryland, as the state mulls seeking out a private firm to add toll lanes to the roadway.
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) led the charge during a town hall session at the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Complex in Landover, urging Gov. Larry Hogan and the state Department of Transportation to support more transit options in lieu of the proposal.
“You may add short-term relief, but you add more vehicles to the road,” Brown said. “We really should not be tolling our highways and roads.”
Prince George’s County Council Chairman Todd Turner said the county has a list of transportation-related initiatives that should take precedence.
“Toll lanes on any of the highways is not on our transportation priority list,” Turner said. “Just slow down. This is a major undertaking.”
Hogan and other state officials have said a public-private partnership to not only expand Interstates 495 and 270 in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties but also add toll lanes is a way to relive congestion in one of the most heavily traffic states in the nation. The proposal has six alternatives and is estimated to cost at least $9.8 billion.
The Board of Public Works, which includes Hogan, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, may decide June 5 on the next steps to approve the P3 model and seek private firms to design, build and finance the 70-mile project.
The proposed work would happen between I-495 west of the Branch Avenue in Temple Hills in Prince George’s County, on northbound I-270 just north of I-370 in Montgomery County and westbound on I-495 in Cabin John south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Montgomery County.
The department estimates the average commuter in the region currently loses more than 87 hours annually due to congestion. A state-conducted study found that a commuter’s travel time would decrease between 45 to 73 hours per year if the beltway and I-270 are widened.
Crystal Hancock, acting supervisor of special projects for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, drew gasps when she mentioned the project proposes 26 access points for the managed toll lanes. About 10 would be in Prince George’s, she said.
Sherrie James of Landover said that’s the problem because not many people knew about this and other details of the plan.
“We are never, never, never asked how do we feel,” she said. “All of a sudden, [a] plan is developed and here it is. Not a lot of people understand what this means. I hope this is not a done deal.”
Before any approval would be given, a draft for an environmental impact study must be done. A final decision that includes a specific contract isn’t scheduled until 2020 and construction underway one or two years later.
Montgomery County Councilman Tom Hunker, one of the most vocal opponents of the state’s proposal, which could affect 34 homes in his jurisdiction, posted a petition on his website.
“There are serious concerns from taxpayers … both on the policy and process,” he said at Thursday’s meeting. “None of us want to be gouged by tolls.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.