June 21, 2022

Relying on MDOT’s own analysis, enemies of toll lanes urge federal authorities to reject project study

The “traffic model fails dramatically,” argued the enemies of the expressway plan in a letter to FHA administrator Stephanie Pollack, because it contradicts an analysis published in a previous journal.

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Opponents of Maryland’s plan to add toll lanes to the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 in Montgomery County on Wednesday urged the Federal Highway Administration to withdraw an analysis of the proposal that the state and the agency federal government released earlier this month.

The “traffic model fails dramatically,” argued the enemies of the expressway plan in a letter to FHA administrator Stephanie Pollack, because it contradicts an analysis published in a previous journal.

In particular, they point to an analysis of traffic speeds along the inner loop of Interstate 495 near Old Georgetown Road, where – if Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s plan goes ahead – two new ones toll lanes would merge with existing lanes. .

The letter was signed by Ben Ross, head of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition; Barbara Coufal, co-chair of Citizens Against Beltway Expansion; and Janet Gallant and Sally Stolz, leaders of DontWiden270.org. All three groups have vigorously opposed Hogan’s plan since its announcement four years ago.

In 2019, critics noted, the Maryland Department of Transportation concluded that adding “expressways” west of – but not east of – Old Georgetown Road “would create a” new bottleneck. throttling “at the melting point”.

The letter to FHA includes MDOT’s own graphic to illustrate this point.

The attempt to get the federal government to abandon analysis of the project cites other examples of what activists claim to be “invalid” traffic modeling.

They noted that the state’s plan “would reduce evening rush hour traffic volumes by up to 4% on the northbound bypass south of US 50 in Prince George County, nearly eliminating traffic. congestion there ”. A similar reduction is also planned for the US 50 to Annapolis.

“There is surely something wrong with a model that shows traffic jams go away in Prince George County when a freeway is widened on the other side of Washington,” the group wrote.

“The traffic forecast for the College Park-Greenbelt area is particularly questionable – 15.9% fewer cars on Kenilworth Avenue, 12.8% on Route 1 and 9.9% on Baltimore-Washington Parkway,” said they added.

“When a model has such serious and pervasive errors, none of its results can be reliable. Such a model is not a credible basis for federal decision making. It needs to be corrected.

Many transport advocates and business groups have praised Hogan for his willingness to present a plan to address some of the traffic problems in the capital region, which are consistently among the worst in the country.

The state hopes to contract with Accelerate Maryland Partners (AMP), a consortium led by Transurban and a second Australian company, to finance and build the tracks. Transurban has an extensive network of “expressways” in Northern Virginia, and the company’s CEO told investors that securing the contract in Maryland is a top priority.

The AMP would determine the tolls that motorists would pay – and bear the maintenance costs on new and existing tracks – in exchange for the ability to keep most of the revenue generated.

The existing lanes would remain available for free use, but the concessionaire would take over a free lane on I-270.

Hogan and Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said the tracks would be built “at no net cost” to the state, although critics – including many members of the General Assembly and state treasurer Nancy K .Kopp (D) – laugh at this assertion.

Supporters of “dynamic” tolls say they work because tolls increase as needed to keep traffic flowing – and motorists who never use them benefit, due to less congestion on the tracks. “Free”.

Critics fear that the benefits of peak demand will flow to those who have the financial resources to get out of traffic jams.

In response to the letter to Pollack, Terry Owens, a spokesperson for MDOT, defended the data and methodology used to develop the traffic relief estimates. He went on to say that the traffic on the Beltway and I-270 would be worse without the road widening plan that the administration is pushing forward.

Hogan originally proposed adding four lanes to the entire Beltway, the entire I-270, and the federally-owned Baltimore-Washington Parkway. With his term in Annapolis due to end in 15 months due to the length of office, the governor is on a tight schedule to secure a construction contract with the Public Works Council next year.

A losing bidder, Capital Express Mobility Partners, has filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County. The consortium protested against MDOT’s selection of AMP, saying the absence of a construction company from the group made its bid lower than that presented by CEMP.

Supporters of Hogan’s plan praised him for his willingness to embrace the changes – and downsize his original vision – in response to concerns from homeowners, environmental groups and elected officials in Montgomery County and beyond.

It is because of these changes that the MDOT was forced to produce a supplemental environmental impact study to replace the document released by the agency last year.

“The traffic modeling is credible, but we welcome and will consider any comments received on the additional draft environmental impact assessment,” Owens said in an email to Maryland Matters.