CommunityWilliam J. Ford

Beltway Expansion Proposal Years Away

Ray Ferguson knows limited details about the state of Maryland’s proposal to expand Interstates 495 and 270 in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

But the avid bicycle rider says state legislation to incorporate bicycle lanes on state roads such as Route 310 could decrease vehicle usage and increase multimodal transportation.

“We try to inform the community that cycling is a viable option, but also for exercising,” said Ferguson, president of the bicycle club called Beech Tree Pedalers of Upper Marlboro. “If we clear the debris, or implement a bike lane that will highly encourage and enhance the cycling environment.”

Bicycle alternatives as a mode of transportation isn’t a primary focus for a highway plan to relieve traffic congestion based on a public-private partnership that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said could become the first in the nation for a transportation project.

The state’s Board of Public Works, which includes Hogan, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, may decide next month on the next steps to approve the P3 model and seek private firms to design, build and finance the 70-mile road project.

An illustration that highlights one alternative to add two high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 270 (Courtesy of Maryland Department of Transportation)
An illustration that highlights one alternative to add two high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstates 95 and 270 (Courtesy of Maryland Department of Transportation)

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) plans to hold a town-hall meeting Thursday, May 23 on the proposal at the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Center in Landover.

The proposed work would happen between I-495 west of the Branch Avenue in Temple Hills in Prince George’s County, continue north on I-270 just north of I-370 in Montgomery County and west on I-495 in Cabin John south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Montgomery County.

The state Department of Transportation outlined six alternatives to add toll lanes with the most expensive proposal estimated at $9.8 billion.

One of the alternatives would add two high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in each direction on Interstates 95 and 270, which resembles a pattern in Northern Virginia. Commuters in the Commonwealth with an EZ-Pass can travel the HOT lanes for free with three or more people to encourage carpooling and transit use.

Even with construction of the Purple Line light-rail project between New Carrollton in Prince George’s and Bethesda in Montgomery County, the Maryland Department of Transportation concludes a “no-build” option for highway project estimates the average commuter in the D.C. region would lose more than 87 hours annually due to congestion.

However, the state’s “managed lane study” concludes a commuter’s travel time would decrease between 45 to 73 hours per year to widen the Capital Beltway and I-270.

It also assessed 34 homes and four businesses could be affected.

“Through the environment study, we’ve identified preliminary property needs,” said Lisa Choplin, project director for the plan. “We’re going to be continuing as we move forward in completing the study looking at opportunities to further reduce those needs. What you see today … we expect that to be the worst case.”

State officials conducted final workshops to explain the proposal last week in Oxon Hill in Prince George’s and Germantown in Montgomery County.

If the P3 plan gets approved, more public hearings will take place to complete a draft of an environmental impact statement. A private firm or number of companies would operate and maintain the toll lanes, with the maintenance of the roads handled by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

A final decision that includes a specific contract isn’t scheduled until 2020 and construction underway one or two years later.

According to an interactive map, the heaviest congestion in working on the project resides in a seven-mile stretch in Montgomery County between Route 29 along I-495 to the Virginia border.

Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, a group of residents in Silver Spring, drafted an opposition letter addressed to the state Board of Public Works.

“It is premature to approve this project before an environmental impact statement has been conducted to assess how it would affect our air, water and the public health,” the letter stated. “The proposal utilizes a public-private partnership model that has led to very high tolls in other communities, such as Northern Virginia. Yet, MDOT has not analyzed whether a P3 project would be more financially advantageous to Marylanders than conventional financing.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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