Mark Uncapher, is serving as President of the Montgomery County Republican Club. Mark is a long-time party activist who previously served as the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.
“Leaving You Stuck in Traffic” – Wes Moore’s Greeting for Motorists
Within weeks of Wes Moore’s inauguration as Governor, Transurban, the lead partner in a consortium known as Accelerate Maryland Partners, announced that they would exit its Public-Private Partnership (P3) with the state that had been intended to bring relief to Maryland drivers.[i]
The P3 was the centerpiece of former Governor Hogan’s “Traffic Relief Plan” to add new toll lanes to the Capital Beltway.[ii] Hogan’s $9 billion plan would have added new Capital Beltway lanes between the American Legion Bridge and I-270 using private investments to finance the expansion. The P3 would use private developers to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the new lanes.
Money to pay for these improvements depended 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.[iii] Drivers would choose to pay for faster travel; when their personal “time is money,” calculation justified it.
In contrast to Maryland’s partisan bickering that has stalled Transurban from moving forward, Virginia’s 495 Express Lanes opened over a decade ago as a P3 with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). The approach has received bipartisan support in Virginia. Transurban’s initial 14-mile segment has grown to a 65-mile Express Lanes system. Both Republican and Democratic Governors, as well as legislatures controlled by both parties, have supported the approach. According to estimates, the 495, 95, and 395 Express Lanes have saved nearly 10 million customers more than 33 million hours.
“Investments in Virginia’s best-in-class transportation networks do more than just modernize physical infrastructure,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Shep Miller. “Virginia sees a return for each dollar we, or the private sector, delivers that translates to a stronger, more competitive economy. Since the Express Lanes opened, more businesses have chosen Northern Virginia to bring their jobs, more educational institutions have expanded to educate our students, and more travelers have reached their destinations on a network of reliable and expanded travel choices.”[iv]
Polling provides insights into how customers continue to value the expanded travel choices of Virginia’s Express Lanes. Even after an unprecedented shift to work-from-home, more area drivers are back on the road and the Express Lanes remain popular:
- 76% overall customer satisfaction
- Nearly 3 in 4 Washington area drivers have used the Express Lanes, up from 62% in 2021
- Nearly 7 in 10 drivers (69%) see a regional benefit from the Express Lanes
- Drivers are more likely to say they have carpooled for free vs. paid a toll to travel the Lanes at least once a month in the last 6 months – 54% vs. 47%[v]
Virginia’s $4 billion private-sector investment in expanded transportation choices bolstered the local economy, creating an estimated 53,000 jobs and $8 billion in economic activity that includes the growth of existing businesses. Transurban’s Express Lanes projects have also invested nearly $1 billion in Disabled Business Enterprises (DBE) and Small, Women- and Minority-Owned (SWaM) businesses in Virginia.[vi]
However, after his election, Moore’s public remarks poured cold water on the P3 proposal, offering the Committee for Montgomery the following word salad:
“(That) means addressing it through a lens of equity, i.e. who’s building it and who can benefit from it, addressing it through the lens of environmental protection — sustainable and environmental justice issues that have been neglected in the process — and also address it with a core understanding of what it means to move in partnership with local jurisdictions, local elected officials and local leaders.”[vii]
That’s a woke answer from Gov. Moore that left Marylanders who just wanted to get to work and then back home faster scratching their heads in confusion. And unquestionably, whatever Moore’s remarks were intended to mean, a very clear message to Transurban was delivered – the State of Maryland was no longer a reliable partner for reducing traffic congestion.
Going forward, the challenge for the equity-minded Moore Administration will be to produce a transportation plan that matches the “job proximity index” of the Hogan Traffic Relief plan. That is, will Marylanders be able to reach at least as many potential jobs within a set commuting time as under the Hogan Traffic Relief Plan?