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Hogan highway project delayed, possibly dooming it with new governor

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan share a moment after signing a highway sign to mark the agreement between the two states to rebuild the American Legion Bridge, which connects the Capital Beltway between the two states over the Potomac River near Cabin John. (Flickr/Maryland GovPics)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, left, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a highway sign to mark the agreement between the two states to rebuild the American Legion Bridge. (Flickr/Maryland GovPics)

A new delay in contracts to widen portions of the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270 and the American Legion Bridge likely spells the end of a signature project as envisioned by Gov. Larry Hogan.

The Maryland Department of Transportation announced Thursday the 10-month extension for Accelerate Maryland Partners to prepare a proposal. The delay is a “day-for-day” extension based on when it received a final record of decision from federal highway officials.

The delay pushes decisions on the project squarely into the early months of a new administration that has expressed concerns about the project.

Carter Elliott, a spokesman for Democratic Gov.-elect Wes Moore said the new governor would like to see “a new type of proposal, one that works greatly with local stakeholders.”

Hogan in 2017 announced he would use a public-private partnership model to add lanes to the congested highways in the capital region. The plan calls for a private partner to add lanes and improve the 60-year-old American Legion Bridge, which connects the Capital Beltway between Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River near Cabin John.

The costs of the project would be offset by tolls collected by the contractor, who would also manage the roads for 50 years before handing it back over to the state.

Hogan promised initially that the no federal money would be needed — a selling point criticized by opponents who pointed out that the state had ultimately asked for federal aid. Included in that request was money for replacing the American Legion Bridge.

State transportation officials, in a statement, said the grant to replace the bridge would come from the Bridge Investment Program, which is part of recently passed federal infrastructure legislation.

Maryland Transportation Secretary James Ports Jr. said the state would have an advantage over other applicants because of earlier federal approvals.

“Thanks to a lot of hard work, MDOT is proud to have secured the Record of Decision for this key project to replace the American Legion Bridge and provide congestion relief and additional travel options to commuters in the National Capital Region,” Ports said. “Achieving this important milestone is a critical step forward for this transformational project.”

Since Hogan announced his plans, the project has been hobbled by delays as the governor tussled with local officials and organizations that opposed the proposed toll-lane expansion. A coalition of groups led by the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit last month seeking to block the project over concerns about what it called an flawed environmental study by the state.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich applauded the delay and said it would give time to seek a better solution for traffic congestion.

“As I have said repeatedly, I believe this project as currently designed is critically flawed and overly expensive,” Elrich said. “I have also stated that a new generation of leadership should vote on the project that will affect our State for the next 30 years. I am excited that Governor-Elect Moore, Comptroller-Elect [Brooke] Lierman, and Treasurer [Dereck E.] Davis will have an opportunity to provide their own critical evaluation, and I look forward to working with them in partnership to provide traffic relief while also protecting our environment and communities.”

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