Prince George's CountyWilliam J. Ford

Residents Recoil at Plan to Expand Beltway with Toll Lanes

Several residents such as Sherri James of Landover expressed displeasure with a proposed traffic plan to expand portions of Interstates 495 and 270 with toll lanes in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

James, who’s resided in Prince George’s for about 30 years, said state officials needed to be more upfront and inform residents better.

“We are never, never, never asked how do we feel?” she said during a town hall Thursday, May 23. “All of a sudden is plan is developed and here it is. Not a lot of people understand what this means. I hope this is not a done deal.”

Dozens of other residents, governmental officials and activists heard about the toll lane plan at the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Complex in Landover. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan supports to make a public-private partnership, or P3 where a private firm would help finance, design and build the toll lanes. The state Department of Transportation would handle the maintenance of the roads along the 70-mile trek.

“You may add short term relief, but you add more vehicles to the road,” said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland), who called for the town hall and doesn’t support the state’s traffic plan. “We really should not be tolling our highways and roads.”

The state Department of Transportation’s six alternatives to a traffic plan, with estimates up to $10 billion, that would decrease congestion in the D.C. region ranked among the highest in the nation.

The Board of Public Works, which includes Hogan, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, may decide Wednesday, June 5 on the next steps to approve the P3.

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.

Crystal Hancock, acting supervisor on special projects with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, received a few gasps when she mentioned the project proposes 26 access points form the managed toll lanes. About 10 would be in Prince George’s, she said.

The department concludes a “no build” option 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.

Stacey Neloms of Mitchellville said telecommuting provides traffic relief on the roads. Neloms works from home as a manager for an information technology company.

“How about tax incentives for a certain company who allows a certain number of employees to telecommute?” she said after the discussion. “It’s an alternative no one is talking about.”

Another option some residents asked about dealt with transit.

According to a flier from the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition based in Columbia, Howard County, for light-rail network to connect in nine counties and Baltimore City.

For instance, the $8 billion proposal would create light-rail to connect at Metro’s Green Line at the Branch Avenue station in Prince George’s County and head south into Charles County. The plan would also revise the previous light-rail Baltimore Red Line, a project Hogan withdrew.

The state’s current traffic plan also doesn’t focus on transit, just highway relief.

One of the options would add two express toll lanes in each direction on Interstates 495 and 270. State officials said I-270 would widen to retain a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane in each direction.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) joined county and planning officials with a three-pronged plan for the traffic plan to receive support before the Board of Public Works votes to begin the P3 process:

• Conduct a draft environmental impact study.

• Research and present an independent fiscal analysis.

• Documentation from county governments who will sign off on the plan.

“Toll lanes on any of the highways is not on our transportation priority list,” said Prince George’s County Council Chairman Todd Turner. “Just slow down. This is a major undertaking.”

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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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