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Hogan, Northam announce plan to rebuild, widen Legion bridge

Traffic crawls along the Capital Beltway during rush hour, in Greenbelt, Md., Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Traffic crawls along the Capital Beltway during rush hour, in Greenbelt Aug. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Leaders of Maryland and Virginia say they have reached a “once in a generation” accord to modernize the Capital Beltway and alleviate congestion in the two states while constructing a rebuilt and widened American Legion Bridge over the Potomac.

The joint announcement was made Tuesday in Washington by Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

A release from Hogan’s office said the bridge-widening project would be done in conjunction with toll lane projects underway in Virginia and those proposed in Maryland and would use a public-private partnership model — sometimes called a P3 — in which a consortium of builders will bear the costs and manage the property for decades.

“As bold as these projects are individually, Governor Northam and I both understand that the problems of the region cannot truly be solved unless our states work together to address this interstate highway system as a whole,” Hogan said during a breakfast transportation forum sponsored by the Greater Washington Partnership and the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Northam said a study conducted by his state concluded that the American Legion Bridge, already the most congested Potomac River crossing, will see heavier traffic and longer commutes in the future.

“That’s bad for commuters,” Northam said. “That’s bad for our regional economy and it’s simply unsustainable. So, we’re reaching across the river and across the aisle to do something about it.”

Hogan’s office said the plan is to replace all existing lanes over the Potomac River and to add two toll lanes to both northbound and southbound sides for nearly three miles in each direction. New bike and pedestrian access will connect trails on both sides of the river.

Hogan said the plan will use existing bridge footprints and rights of way.

A statement detailing the plan from Hogan’s office said it will “minimize impact to travelers, the environment, and surrounding communities. No homes or businesses are expected to require relocation.”

Under the agreement, Hogan said the two states will work to complete widening projects along the Capital Beltway, including a controversial proposed toll lane expansion in Maryland from the bridge to I-95 North in Prince George’s County. Originally, Hogan had planned on a first phase of toll lane expansion on I-270. Maryland will take the lead in work involving widening of the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River, Hogan said.

Maryland will pay for 79% of the non-toll lanes on the bridge. Virginia and Maryland will evenly split the cost of the four new toll lanes, two in each direction, on the bridge. The two states will each pay for lane widening on their respective sides of the river.

“Our transportation network cannot function without fixing the American Legion Bridge, I-495 and I-270,” Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said in a statement. “Without these improvements, our horrendous congestion will only get worse.”

Rahn said the “historic agreement” would have lasting benefits for the region for decades to come.

Ben Ross, chairman of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, said the announcement signals a change in direction from decisions made by Hogan earlier this year to prioritize widening of the I-270 corridor before working on the Capital Beltway.

“The only winners from this plan are the P3 financiers and the few wealthy drivers who can afford to pay $40 tolls every day,” Ross said.  “Everyone else will sit in traffic jams — otherwise drivers won’t be willing to pay the high tolls the P3 financiers need to make a profit.”

Ross added that the plan all but eliminates any efforts to improve public transportation, including the Corridor Cities Transitway, which was deleted this fall from the current proposed six-year transportation plan.

“This completely blows up the justification for not looking at transit alternatives to these wasteful highway projects,” Ross said. “Secretary Rahn claimed there is no money to build rail lines. Where did the money suddenly come from for this new plan?”

Virginia is expected to complete the construction of 90 miles of managed toll lanes by 2022.

In January, Northam announced a $1 billion agreement with Australia-based Transurban that included a 2.5-mile extension of toll lanes on the Capital Beltway leading to the American Legion Bridge.

In September, Hogan traveled to Australia leading a National Governors Association delegation. During the trip, he met with representatives of Transurban and toured some of its facilities.

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