Hogan calls on Biden and Buttigieg to reverse their decision to delay the I-270 and I-495 projects

Governor Larry Hogan’s administration has proposed a project to widen I-270 and parts of I-495 to relieve traffic congestion by using a public-private partnership to build two toll lanes in the lanes North and South.

Maryland Department of Transportation

This story was updated at 12:50 p.m., August 5, 2022, to include comments from Governor Larry Hogan and the Federal Highway Administration. It was updated at 3 p.m. to include more commentary and at 4:30 p.m. to include more detail and commentary.

Governor Larry Hogan is urging President Joe Biden, Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the Federal Highway Administration to reverse a decision to delay a plan to widen parts of I-270 and I-495, as well as the replacement for the American Legion Bridge.

On Friday, the Federal Highway Administration was expected to potentially approve an environmental impact statement for the project, which Hogan helped lead in an attempt to ease congestion on I-270 and the Capital Beltway. Several local organizations, led by the Sierra Club, were protesting the delay, saying the public needed more time to review the statement, which was well over 26,000 pages.

In a lengthy statement Friday morning, Hogan said his administration had “learned that the Acting Federal Highway Administrator plans to further delay Maryland’s transformative traffic reduction plan.” We were completely blindsided by this action, especially since every comprehensive analysis we submitted had already been reviewed and approved by the agency. »

Hogan blasted the federal government’s decision and said some Montgomery County politicians are flattering “a small minority of pro-trafficking activists.”

“If no action is taken to immediately rectify this improper decision, we stand ready to use all tools at our disposal – up to and including legal action. reckless and seemingly politically motivated acts may leave us with no choice,” Hogan said in the statement.

In recent weeks, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, along with Casey Anderson, chairman of the county planning board and the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, had sent letters to the Department of Transportation, urging them to allow more time for the review of the environmental impact statement, according to reports from Maryland Matters.

In an interview with the Glen Echo Fire Department on Friday, Hogan said the Federal Highway Administration’s decision was made by Stephanie Pollack, the agency’s acting administrator. He called his decision “a parting shot out of the door” as his position will not be confirmed by the US Senate.

Pollack has been acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration since July 21, according to the agency’s website. Last month, President Biden announced he had selected Shailen P. Bhatt to lead the administration, pending Senate confirmation.

Hogan dismissed concerns from local opponents that the project has not undergone a thorough environmental review, and said his administration has already compromised enough with state and local leaders – noting that the current footprint of the project is about 20% of the initial proposal.

Hogan said his administration would take legal action against the Federal Highway Administration if the agency did not change course. He said any further delays and legal action could cost Maryland taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

” We hope [the Federal Highway Administration] are going to change their mind and reverse it immediately, if possible by the end of the day, if possible,” Hogan said. “If it’s not done in the next few days, we’re going to file a lawsuit because taxpayers can’t potentially afford up to $1 billion in delays.”

The environmental impact study was made public in June. For the state to receive federal funding for the project, the declaration must be approved by the Federal Highway Administration.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) continues to work with the Maryland Department of Transportation on the I-495/I-270 Managed Lane Study,” an FHWA spokesperson wrote in a statement. E-mail. “There have been strong feelings about this project and it is FHWA’s responsibility not to choose sides, but to ensure that the NEPA process is followed with integrity. This includes conducting a thorough review of comments received to ensure that public comments are properly considered as we work to finalize a Record of Decision for this project.

The project was first unveiled by Hogan in late 2017, using a so-called “P3” – public-private partnership – in which the tracks would be designed, built, operated and maintained by a private company with revenues from two toll lanes in both directions. Originally, it was to include all of I-495 in Montgomery and Prince George counties as well as I-270. But the Maryland Department of Transportation announced last year that the first phase of the project has been scaled back to include the American Legion Bridge, the westernmost section of I-495 leading to I-270. , and north on I-270 to I-370 – at an estimated cost of $3.75 billion to $4.25 billion.

Elrich, along with some Montgomery County Council members and local officials, have criticized the project, saying it will not lead to the traffic relief announced by the Hogan administration.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Elrich, said the county executive’s office had not been contacted by the Federal Highway Administration about its decision, but added in an email: “Well that we have not received any communication or correspondence from the U.S. Department of Transportation on this matter would align with the county executive’s request to the department, however, it would be premature to speculate on any potential decisions until they are officially notified.

Opponents of the project have criticized Hogan for trying to cut corners during the federal government’s overall review of the project. This included the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition and Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.

“It is disappointing that Governor Hogan is once again resorting to blame and name-calling when this result is the logical outcome of his administration’s repeated efforts to cut corners on a flawed plan,” Tulkin wrote in a statement. “The fundamental flaws built into this harmful project are finally catching up with it.”

The project has been controversial in Montgomery County, where many upper county residents, elected officials and political leaders support it, while those in the lower county oppose it. It has also served as the basis for an interesting sequence of events in local and regional politics due to crucial votes in the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Council, which includes representatives from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.

In June 2021, this council voted against including the Hogan toll lane project as part of a larger group of projects to undergo an “air quality compliance review”, which is required for projects to be considered for federal funding. Hogan’s administration then ran a publicity campaign and lobbied some representatives of the transportation planning board to reverse their vote — and in July 2021, the board reversed course, approving the transportation quality analysis project. the air.

Between those two votes, County Council Member Hans Riemer said he brokered a deal with Greg Slater, then Maryland’s transportation secretary. In exchange for five out of nine council members signing on to the project – and therefore council voting affirmatively in the July 2021 vote by the Transportation Planning Council – the developer of the I-270/I-widening project 495 would provide a minimum of $145 million for transit projects, including the County Corridor Cities Transitway and the creation of a bus rapid transit route along Md. 355, according to a letter from Slate.

Riemer, along with board members Gabe Albornoz, Andrew Friedson, Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice, signed a letter of support. Council members Evan Glass, Will Jawando, Tom Hucker and Sidney Katz did not.

Riemer could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday. Hucker, a longtime opponent of the project, said he was not surprised to learn that the Federal Highway Administration had delayed its decision.

More than a year ago, Hucker said, he attended a meeting with U.S. Representative Anthony Brown (D) and Buttigieg about the project and transportation needs. He noted that federal transportation officials were concerned about the project’s environmental review process.

“They knew the Hogan administration had basically cut corners and been somewhat quick and loose with federal demands in order to get this project approved before the end of [his] administration,” Hucker said in an interview. Hogan leaves office in January.

Hucker added that the project fails to meet climate and equity standards that were established during Biden’s tenure.

Asked about the Hogan administration’s potential lawsuit, Hucker said, “I’ll leave it to the attorneys to figure out if the state has a case.”

Steve Bohnel can be contacted at [email protected]

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