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Hogan lashes out at federal officials for reportedly delaying $6B toll-lanes project

The Hogan administration’s plan would create four toll lanes — two in each direction — on both Interstate 270 and the western part of the Capital Beltway.  (The Washington Post / Katherine Frey)

Gov. Larry Hogan is calling on federal officials to reverse a decision that will delay a plan to add toll lanes to portions of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270.

The length of the new delay is not immediately clear. The governor says in his letter that he fears the federal government is essentially breaking a promise on federal action.

“We were completely blindsided by this action, particularly given that every comprehensive analysis we submitted had already been reviewed and approved by the agency,” said Hogan in a letter to federal officials. “In fact, only a few weeks ago, the agency’s professional experts praised our study as a model for other states. This is just the latest example of how the acting administrator is undermining the law and longstanding practices that govern the approval of critical state projects. We cannot stand for this irresponsible and incompetent federal overreach.”

Hogan is seeking federal approval and likely some funding to add toll lanes to the American Legion Bridge and a portion of the Capital Beltway as well as a portion of Interstate 270.

Hogan, in his letter, called on President Joseph Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to overturn an “acting administrator’s rogue decision.” 

That decision overruled recommendations by the federal agency’s professional staff.

The plan, estimated to cost $6 billion, has been described by the Hogan administration as a “historic and transformative traffic-relief plan.”

The proposal would create four toll lanes — two in each direction — on both I-270 and the western part of the beltway. It would be done in two phases along I-270, first to Interstate 370 and then from I-370 to Interstate 70 in Frederick.

Two Australian companies, Transurban and Macquarie, will develop the toll lanes while a contract is negotiated with the companies to build the lanes and pay for them in exchange for most of the revenue raised from tolls. At the end of the contract, the roads would revert back to the state.

“In advancing this project over the past six years, we have already had to overcome numerous attempts at sabotage by some Montgomery County politicians pandering to a small minority of pro-traffic activists,” Hogan wrote. “State transportation officials have gone above and beyond to address all of these frivolous concerns over and over again by conducting extensive public engagement far exceeding regulatory requirements, significantly reducing impacts, studying alternatives, and expanding multimodal mobility and connectivity. Yet they continue to try to obstruct a project that an overwhelming majority of their constituents desperately want. “

The governor said the state has already had to contend with eight delays by federal officials totaling nearly two years.

“These delays have increased the cost of the project by more than 20% amid unprecedented inflation, supply chain issues, labor shortages, and interest rate increases, potentially costing Maryland taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars,” Hogan wrote.” As a result, I have directed state transportation officials to initiate the process of applying for a federal bridge grant to mitigate these federally-driven cost increases.” 

Ben Ross, chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, called the request for aid “blockbuster news” and a sign that Hogan is breaking his promise that the project would not use taxpayer dollars.

Hogan threatened legal action if the decision were not reversed.

“While we do not want it to come to that, these reckless and apparently politically-motivated actions may leave us with no other choice,” Hogan wrote.

A week ago, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich asked for such a delay, citing the need for public review of the state’s final environmental impact study. The document, released in June for a 30-day public review, totaled nearly 30,000 pages.

The request was the latest in a series of attempts by Elrich and other officials in Montgomery County to delay the project.