Because of the news stories promoting the Biden “Infrastructure” bill, Marylanders might think that relief from Capital Beltway gridlock was on the way. However, they would be wrong if Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Prince George’s) gets his way.
Earlier this month, Brown wrote Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg detailing his opposition to the Hogan “Traffic Relief Plan,” which would add new toll lanes to the Capital Beltway.[i] Governor Larry Hogan’s $9 billion plan includes adding new Capital Beltway lanes between the American Legion Bridge and I-270 using private funds to finance the expansion through a “Public-Private Partnership (P3). The P3 would use private developers to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the new lanes.
Money to pay for these improvements depends on tolls and not more taxes or additional Federal money. However, these are entirely voluntary tolls, triggered only by express lane use. All existing free travel lanes would be retained. Only those drivers of single-occupancy vehicles who chose to use the new express lanes would face any extra charges.[ii] Drivers would choose to pay for faster travel; when their personal “time is money” calculation justified it.
Yet, according to Brown, “The best way to address the Capital area’s traffic problems is to create options to take cars off the road, with public transit and other solutions.” With this complaint, Brown conveniently ignores the Purple Line’s ongoing construction. Governor Larry Hogan already greenlighted the light rail project linking New Carrollton and Bethesda.
Brown’s complaints about mass transit support also ignores that nearly half of Maryland’s transportation spending already goes to public transit. This is despite cars accounting for approximately 97 percent of all travel. Brown’s letter echoes the rationale for this imbalance for motorists with the suggestion that travelers will be diverted away from the roads to transit. However, despite decades of public transit spending, the promised travel “diversion” has failed to materialize.
Brown further uses COVID-19 to argue against the Hogan relief plan. However, relying on COVID-related traffic reduction hardly seems to be a thoughtful, long-term transportation strategy. Indeed, COVID’s long-term consequences may impact mass transit use far more than single-occupancy car travel.
Additionally, Brown claimed, “Federal approval of this plan would be in direct conflict with President Biden’s directives to the Federal Government for protecting the environment. Executive Order 13990, signed on January 20, 2021, titled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” directs the Federal Government to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse emissions through regulations and other actions. “
Buried in this dense language is Rep. Brown’s understanding about the Biden Administration’s real intent for infrastructure. Brown apparently expects that “Not in My Backyard” environmentalism will receive more weight from the administration than building more road capacity even where traffic congestion warrants it.
Unfortunately, Brown may have a far clearer understanding than most of the fundamental objectives of Biden’s “infrastructure” plan. The word infrastructure seems only to deserve air quotes. Despite funding from massive tax increases, only 7% of the bill would be spent on roads, highways, bridges, waterways, ports, and airports combined.
Even worse would be for the Infrastructure President’s Department of Transportation to be used to block Capital Beltway relief. Marylanders spend more time commuting to work than the residents of every other state, apart from New York. The time spent stuck in I-270 or Beltway traffic is maddeningly frustrating. Congestion results in less time spent with families and discourages workers from taking jobs requiring longer commutes.
Marylanders deserve better than Anthony Brown’s approach to transportation gridlock.