Make No Small Plans

Maryland Gov. Hogan Hopes To Launch A National Model For Managing Congestion with Express Lanes in the Baltimore-DC Corridor

Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan probably improved his chances for reelection to a second term this month by floating bold plans for a 100-mile managed-lanes network to relieve chronic congestion in three of the state’s most constrained commuter corridors, all in metro Washington, D.C.

Hogan’s concept is to add four lanes of capacity to I-495, I-270, and the MD-295 Baltimore-Washington Parkway via toll concessions that he says will require no public subsidy and include large upfront payments to the state.

Can he pull it off? It’s possible. Maryland’s governorship carries great powers, and Hogan is among the most popular governors in state history. Plus, he is said to have no political aspirations beyond a second term so isn’t likely to be distracted by national politics.

Hogan largely ignored urban voters in his first term. Whether they’ll buy into his big idea now depends on whether or not Pete Rahn, Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation can produce a credible plan fairly soon. That’s a tall order. Rahn told Hogan that the capacity additions could cost $9 billion. It will certainly be much more, experts say, and take much longer than is being visualized now.

At this point, the scope and extraordinary complexity of Rahn’s plan does not inspire P3 veterans. “It’s a vision, and it will probably stay that way,” says one.

Rahn is a big picture executive with high ambitions—he was hoping to be named FHWA Administrator by President Trump. Rahn has made no move at this point to hire advisors for his managed lanes plan, sources say. He appears to be relying on his office of innovative contracting at this point which issued a Request for Information on September 21.

State road projects are financed by the Maryland Transportation Authority, which has eight projects in its portfolio now. Gaining credit-rating agency approval of the managed lanes projects probably will require them to be developed one at time, possibly in the following order:

I-495—Attracting private developers for Maryland’s I-495 project will benefit from the experience gained by Fluor and Transurban in developing and operating the 495 Express Lanes in Virginia. Gridlock conditions on the 42-mile section of I-495 in Maryland regularly stretch to 10 hours a day.

I-495 issues are similar to I-270’s, plus any widening will face stubborn opposition from wealthy landowners on both sides of the American Legion Memorial Bridge, which carries I-495 over the Potomac River between Montgomery County, Maryland and Fairfax County, Virginia. The 10-lane bridge is the only link between the two most populous counties in their respective states. It carries about 230,000 vpd.

I-270—Both I-270 and MD-295 Baltimore-Washington Parkway are feeder routes for the I-495 beltway. Progressive Democrats in Montgomery County quickly announced their opposition to the I-270 toll lanes. But there is potential support among commuters and businesses. Traffic in some segments averages 260,000 vehicles daily and peaks are growing, so a pure toll concession seems possible.

Rahn is counting on private developers to help Maryland DOT (MDOT) manage right-of-way problems along the 30 miles of tolled express lanes he wants added to I-270 in Montgomery County, where any taking of land is seen as an act of war.

MD-295—Acquiring the MD-295 Baltimore-Washington Parkway from the National Park Service will be required before Maryland DOT can begin planning and permitting along the 29-mile highway. The untolled road was opened in 1954 and serves a number of federal installations, including Fort Meade army base and the NSA headquarters. Substantial sums have been spent to preserve its historic character.

Earlier attempts to deed the six-lane road to Maryland failed. Convincing the National Park Service to give MD-295 to the Maryland Transportation Authority so it can lease it to private investors won’t sit well with federal bureaucrats or the Historic Preservation Districts that guard the character of the parkway. It’s likely that an act of Congress will be required to effect the transfer.

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