Transportation board supports I-270 toll lane project

·3 min read

Jul. 22—A plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 270 is back on track after a vote Wednesday by a regional transportation board that reversed a vote from last month.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' Transportation Planning Board's vote added the plan back into the air quality conformance analysis for its Visualize 2045 long-range transportation plan.

The board's vote in June to remove the project that would add high-occupancy toll lanes to I-270 and I-495 from the American Legion Bridge between Maryland and Virginia to Frederick caused several jurisdictions from Maryland and Virginia to ask to revisit the matter at Wednesday's meeting.

The vote also led Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) to replace County Councilman Kai Hagen, who voted to remove the project, with herself as the county's representative on the board.

Gardner and Frederick Alderman Kelly Russell (D), the city's representative, both voted to add the project back into the conformance analysis.

If a significant project such as the toll lanes aren't included in the air quality analysis and long-range plan, the plan wouldn't meet federal requirements for final approval of the project's environmental review to move forward, according to a TPB release. The air quality analysis is expected to be finished by June 2022 — before the board votes to finalize the long-range plan's update.

As the federally-designated planning organization for the Washington metropolitan region, the TPB is required to do analyses to make sure all significant regional projects collectively meet federal air quality standards.

The first phase of the project would go from the American Legion Bridge to Interstate 370 near Gaithersburg, while the second phase would stretch from I-370 to Interstate 70 in Frederick.

The amended resolution approved Wednesday included an agreement between the state Department of Transportation and Montgomery County to use money from the project to fund transit projects in the county.

At Wednesday's meeting, Gardner said her vote represents the majority of Frederick's County Council.

Gardner also asked Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater for a commitment to similar transit investments for the northern portion of the plan.

The northern section will have the same type of appropriate transit investment as the southern section, Slater said.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R), for whom the toll project has been a key priority during his tenure, called Wednesday's vote a victory for Marylanders who are stuck in "soul-crushing" traffic.

The vote was a "win against the small group of Montgomery County politicians and far-left activists who sought to derail a compromise requested by Montgomery County and already approved by the bipartisan Board of Public Works."

The June vote had drawn a mix of reactions from local officials.

The anticipated loss of revenue from the tolls led MDOT to warn that a variety of projects would have to be eliminated or delayed if the project wasn't put back into the study.

Frederick Mayor Michael O'Connor urged the TPB to reinstate the project. He wrote, "The City of Frederick and Frederick County are attracting large employers that expect to draw workforce from the region and we anticipate traffic to increase bi-directionally, magnifying our need for improvements not only to our city's edge at Route 70, but through Frederick on Route 15, which is now at risk."

Meanwhile, Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 8) sent a letter along with Maryland colleague Anthony Brown (D-Dist. 4) urging the board to stand by its June vote.

"Our constituents who stand to be most affected by the widening of I-495/I-270 have continuously raised concerns about the project's health and financial consequences," the congressmen wrote. "They rightly note that the expansion project will add more cars to the highway, inflicting increased air-pollution on the surrounding communities at a time when we need to decrease emissions and bring down pollution levels."

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP

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