A key intergovernmental panel Wednesday voted to support a proposed toll lane expansion in the DC suburbs over the objections of some local and state leaders who decried a bare-knuckle push by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on behalf of the $6 billion project.
The vote by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board reverses a June decision by the panel, a move that had jeopardized the proposed major highway expansion.
“This is a win for families, commuters, and small businesses, and it’s 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,” said Hogan in a statement following the vote. “Their actions needlessly put the new bridge and every critical transportation project in the region at risk.”
The panel, comprised of state and local officials from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, coordinates regional priorities.
Hogan wants an expansion of the Capital Beltway in Maryland and a part of Interstate 270 using toll lanes. The new lanes would likely be built byAccelerate Maryland Express Partners, a 16-company group led by Australia-based Transurban at a total cost of about $6 billion.
The regional board voted last month to remove the proposal from a list of long-term regional projects. That vote endangered needed federal environmental approval.
Hogan pressed for the revote over the last month. He warned that five transportation projects totaling $1.2 billion would be in jeopardy without the toll lanes.
Hogan also mounted an advertising and social media campaign chiding local officials who voted against the project.
Del. Marc Korman, D-Montgomery and chair of the House Appropriations Committee transportation subcommittee, pleaded with members Wednesday to not change their vote based solely on lobbying pressure or promises.
“If you’re changing your vote because of new promises, it’s a mistake,” he said. “There are no new promises. If your changing your vote because project funding was threatened, it’s a mistake. No project funding was threatened. The only thing threatened was a line item in a long-range plan, many of which have been there since before I got out of high school. If you’re changing your vote because of dark money ads put on by a politician, that’s probably the biggest mistake of all. So I hope those of you who voted a certain way last month are changing your votes for the right reasons and not because you’ve been fooled by funding threats, recycled promises that have already been documented or raw politics from one of the elected officials in my state.”
Korman voted against the project on behalf of the Maryland House of Delegates. Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, voted in favor of the proposal.
The majority of officials from Maryland voted for adding the project to the list of priorities. Some smaller cities including Greenbelt, Rockville and Takoma Park, voted against the request.
One official targeted by Hogan was Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich.
“The governor is trying to strong-arm us into all of this,” Elrich said. He later told reporters that Hogan’s “unprecedented negative campaign” was “largely filled with lies that came from the governor’s personal political PAC.”
Elrich voted against the project even though he had reached an agreement with the state to add some funding to mass transit projects, including the Corridor Cities Transit Way and the use of express buses on the new toll lanes.
“This was never about the Corridor Cities Transit Way and it was never about holding the state up for money,” said Elrich. “This was about more fundamental questions about the project.”
“We didn’t get much that we didn’t already have,” Elrich told reporters later.
The Montgomery County Council, which also had a vote on the panel, voted to approve the toll lane expansion because of the state’s promises regarding transit projects.
Elrich said the toll financing and a pubic-private partnership may be a more expensive option. Instead, he renewed a call for a look at adding two reversible traffic lanes similar to some in Virginia. Elrich said the lanes would likely be less expensive for motorists to use.
Some opponents now hope to derail the project at the Board of Public Works. A vote is not yet scheduled but could come as soon as the board’s July 28 meeting.
Two of the board’s three members are Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, Montgomery County Democrats. Hogan chairs the board.
“Hopefully the (Board of Public Works) will put a microscope on this deal and force the state to do the evaluations it should do,” said Elrich.
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