Mobilizing in Maryland: Managed Lanes Shortlist, DEIS Published

Michael Bennon
From the July 2020 Edition of Public Works Financing

The MDoT I-495 and I-270 Phase 1 P3 passed two milestones this month, publishing its Draft EIS to start the public comment period and announcing its shortlist of four bidders from qualifications. Final proposals are expected to be due in early 2021.

Those four shortlisted teams include:

Accelerate Maryland Express Partners, with developer Itinera Infrastructure, contractors Halmar International and Itinera, and designers Atkins and Gannett Fleming.

Accelerate Maryland Partners, with developers Transurban and Macquarie, contractor Archer Western Construction, and designers Dewberry Engineers and Stantec.

Capital Express Mobility Partners, with developers Cintra, Meridiam and John Laing, contractor Ferrovial, and designer AECOM.

Potomac Mobility Group, with developer ACS, contractor Dragados, and designers Parsons, Jacobs and HDR.

The quality of respondents is reflective of several factors: an overwhelming underlying need for traffic relief in the region, the size of the potential pipeline of projects, and a political champion in Governor Larry Hogan, among other factors. In a statement with the shortlist announcement, Governor Hogan stated: “We’re pleased to see leading international firms invest in Maryland and the National Capital Region to address one of the most congested areas in the nation.”

The Phase 1 P3 will cover I-495 from the George Washington Parkway to I-270, and then along I-270 to I-370.

Respondents for the procurement aren’t the only ones mobilizing. The Draft EIS for the project was released on July 10th. Before it was even released, an open letter signed by the leaders of 44 different stakeholder groups requested that the deadline for public comment be increased from 90 days to 120 days, which would push the end of the comment period back from early October to after the election in November. Since the EIS’s publication, additional local and state elected officials have joined the call for an extension.

One of the reasons cited is interesting: the EIS is too long. The Draft EIS weighs in at 90 pounds and supplements a 350-page main body with 18,000 pages of appendices. Montgomery County Council Member Tom Hucker stated that a constituent “would have to read 200 pages per day for 90 days” to digest the document in its entirety during that comment period. Perhaps the old practice of 90-day comment periods were for an era when highway lane-addition projects were studied for less than 18,000 pages.

Other project opponents have cited concerns with the ranges of revenue and cost projections in the DEIS, which do not rule out the need for a public subsidy to make the project economically viable. Critics have already framed this as a walk-back from Governor Hogan’s promises that the expansions would be funded from the toll revenue on the managed lanes.

Of course, the state plans to eventually solve the mystery of the economic viability of the project by completing the competitive procurement it is in the middle of. Presumably one of the shortlisted bidders will win the concession and take on the risk of the economics turning out differently, and in so doing give Maryland their result. Until then, the planners writing the EIS and the stakeholders reviewing it will likely continue debating the economic viability of the project. The members of the shortlist may tune in if they find it helpful.

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