A highway project in Maryland, namely Montgomery County, is being revived. The beleaguered project has already faced many issues which have made it hard to move forward. A new appointment for the National Capital Region’s Transportation Planning Board has caused further tension among the transportation industry.
The project has seen many changes, and it’s unclear how it will be carried out. Here’s more information about the project as well as the benefits and drawbacks involved.
Highways are a key part of discussions about improving transportation
The Montgomery County highway project
Montgomery County is headed towards renewing a rejected highway project that involves widening I-270. Gov. Larry Hogan was the main supporter of this plan. This includes building two tow lanes in each direction, and would rely on funding primarily through private companies, as reported by the Washington Post.
According to WTOP News, the project took a step forward when Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner appointed herself to a regional panel that makes transportation decisions. The panel approved her nomination, allowing her to replace Council Member Kai Hagen. As a supporter of the project, Gardner represents a major shift for the transportation board.
Hagen opposed the project and voted on an amendment proposed by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, which would remove the widening from the county’s list of plans. However, recent developments have indicated that the vote will be overturned, as some officials have indicated their intent to flip.
The revote took place on July 21. Maryland Matters reported that the Hogan highway plan was revived in a 28-10 vote. Under Hogan’s plan, Accelerate Maryland Partners, led by Transurban and another Australian firm, will finance and build toll lanes in exchange for control of the rates for 50 years or more.
The controversy of this project mainly lies with its public-private partnership, which means it’ll receive funding directly from companies. This does have a few benefits, though, including room in the budget to fund $1.5 billion worth of other transportation-related projects. It’s also estimated to be at “no net cost” to taxpayers due to the private funding, as reported by Washington Post.
The project is supported by business interests. The private companies that fund the project are granted the majority of all toll road funds for 50 years. Many motorists who have to travel long distances across I-270 also support the project. The express toll roads is expected to decrease traffic along I-270 and reduce congestion.
However, many other parties oppose the project on multiple fronts. Some are against the private funding, which requires an expensive 50-year contract. If the county changes its mind and tries to use federal funding instead, it’ll have to pay back the companies in full.
According to the Washington Post, Del. Jared Solomon said, “If we are truly evaluating the pluses and minuses of both options, we should be doing it before any money has been shelled out or any contract has been signed.”
While the project was originally included in a federal air quality analysis, it was recently removed. This means that the project can’t get environmental approval. Opponents of the plan said the project will worsen greenhouse gas emissions.
A letter from the Maryland Department of Transportation implied that without private financing, the highway project could cut $6 billion worth of funding from other projects. Transportation Secretary, Gregory Slater said the true impact would likely be closer to $1.5 billion.
It’s yet to be seen whether the Biden administration will sign off on this project.
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