Franchot sides with Governor Against Marc Elrich, MoCo Council
The Maryland Board of Public Works, in a bipartisan vote of 2-1[i], advanced Governor Larry Hogan’s historic Traffic Relief Plan to ease congestion on the Capital Beltway, build a new American Legion Bridge, deliver more transit services for the region, create thousands of jobs, along with substantial long-term economic growth and environmental benefits.[ii]
On the three-member Board, Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot — who, heading into the meeting, was seen as the swing vote — voted in support of the measures. Treasurer Nancy Kopp voted against them. Pitted against Hogan’s anti-gridlock proposal were Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and the County Council.
“Here in Maryland, we continue to set an example for Washington and the rest of the nation when it comes to infrastructure,” said Governor Hogan. “This Traffic Relief Plan is a win for families, commuters, and small businesses. It will finally begin to solve the soul-crushing, worst-in-the-nation traffic that people have failed to address for 50 years. This project has the support of the overwhelming majority of Marylanders and was recently advanced by the regional Transportation Planning Board.”
To be sure, the Traffic Relief Plan involves tolls to pay for the improvements. However, these are entirely voluntary tolls that only apply when a driver uses an express lane. Drivers will have the option to choose to pay for faster travel, essentially when their personal “time is money” calculation warrants their doing so. Non-express lane users also benefit from the additional road capacity and the diverted traffic. These express lanes have already been deployed extensively in Virginia and north of Baltimore on I-95.
Prior to the vote, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich had expressed his opposition: “Despite the expenditure of over $140 million and over four years of work, the basic questions about what investment is needed and how to pay for it have not been answered,” Elrich wrote. [iii]
All nine members of the County Council had cautioned against moving forward based on apparently procedural grounds: “Regardless of one’s view of the policy merits of any project, the State should not enter into an agreement of this magnitude without due diligence to fully understand the contractual obligations we are assuming. ”[iv]
In a politically brazen attempt to both claim to support the Traffic Relief Plan, as well as opposition to it, a majority of the Montgomery County Council members had also expressed support in principle recently for the project after receiving concessions on public transit and other issues.[v]
Comptroller Franchot’s position was far clearer; in his statement of support, he said:
“Today, I reconfirmed the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) will fulfill the commitments I secured, which include guarantees that:
- no construction award will be presented to the Board next year until the completion of all federal, state, and local environmental impact studies and permits required;
- no homes will be taken before the construction contract is awarded;
- a portion of the toll revenue be directly invested into local transit programs for Montgomery and Frederick counties, and;
- carpools and buses will be able to use the express toll lanes for free. In addition, MDOT completed a feasibility study of a monorail system for the I-270 corridor, which was a commitment made to the Board in January 2020. [vi]
Marylanders spend more time commuting to work than the residents of every other state, apart from New York. [vii] 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 involving longer commutes.
Today’s vote takes a step toward getting thousands of Marylanders home sooner.
[v] https://bethesdamagazine.com/bethesda-beat/transportation/on-eve-of-key-board-vote-majority-of-county-council-proclaims-support-for-i-270-i-495-project/; https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/MDMONTGOMERY/2021/07/20/file_attachments/1883810/Mo%20CE-Council%20Letter.pdf