Gov. Hogan blows up Maryland Corridor project delays

Suspension

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) on Friday criticized federal transportation officials for delaying a decision that would have cleared the way for him to move forward with a plan to build toll lanes on Interstate 270 and part of the Capital Beltway, according to a letter sent to the Biden administration.

Hogan said he was “completely shocked” and reprimanded the acting official to the Federal Highway Administration for failing to approve the state’s environmental plan for the project by the Friday target date. In the letter to President Biden and US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, he urged Hogan to overturn the decision to take more time to study the issue. While Hogan did not name the official, he appears to be referring to Stephanie Pollack, who is the current acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

“If action is not taken to rectify this improper decision immediately, we are prepared to use every tool at our disposal – including legal action,” Hogan said in the letter. “While we don’t want it to come this far, these reckless and seemingly politically motivated actions may leave us with no other choice.”

Officials from Hogan’s office and the Maryland Department of Transportation, which oversees the fee corridor project, did not respond to questions about the details of the acting official’s decision or how long it could delay the project. Nor did they comment on what Hogan meant by “politically motivated acts.”

In June, Maryland officials released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project. Officials from the FHWA must sign the FEIS and issue a “Decision Record” in order for the project to receive federal funding. MDOT officials have also said they will not proceed until they have that approval.

Maryland says it can reduce environmental impacts of the Beltway Trails, I-270

Pollack declined to comment on Hogan’s comments, but in a statement, the agency indicated it needed more time to review comments on the project’s potential environmental impacts, which would expand and add toll lanes to I-270 and part of the Capital Beltway. The federal agency said it was continuing to work with officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation but did not specify a timeline for when the review would be completed.

“There were strong feelings about this project and the responsibility of FHWA is not to choose a side, but to ensure that [National Environmental Policy Act] The agency said in a statement sent via e-mail. “This includes completing a comprehensive review of the comments received to ensure that public comments are addressed appropriately while we work to finalize the decision history for this project.”

A federal dashboard set up to monitor the state of infrastructure projects gave August 5 as a target date for approval of the environmental study, but agency officials cautioned that what was listed was not a deadline, but an estimate.

A plan to expand part of the Capital Beltway and I-270, two of the area’s busiest highways, was years in the making and is Hogan’s signature traffic-reducing initiative. But with only a few months remaining in the position, Hogan’s window to advance the project is narrowing.

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Hogan wants to get approval from the state Public Works Board this fall for the contract, a public-private partnership worth billions of dollars to fund, build and operate the trails. Winning approval of the plan would lock Maryland into a 50-year agreement with a private concessionaire.

However, Hogan is term-limited, and if he is unable to secure the contract before leaving office in January, there are fears a new governor could make changes or even scrap the project.

Under the plan outlined by the Maryland Department of Transportation, the state will add two toll lanes in each direction to the Beltway between the Virginia side of a new and expanded U.S. Legon Bridge and an exit for the old Georgetown Road in Bethesda. From there, the lanes will extend up to I-270 to Frederick, with the lower portion being built to I-370 first.

The normal lanes will be rebuilt and will remain empty. One of the toll lanes on the lower I-270 will come from the converted carpool.

But the plan met with opposition from some officials in Montgomery and Prince George counties, as well as environmental groups and relocation advocates. This week, Casey Anderson, chair of the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission, sent a letter to officials at MDOT and FHWA requesting additional time to review the project’s potential environmental impacts.

“Thank you to the Federal Highway Administration for responding to the concerns of the communities affected by this project and for delaying action to allow additional time for constituents to understand the environmental, transportation and financial implications of this project” (District 5), Montgomery County Council member Tom Hooker said.

The approval of FEIS is also important because it will start a five-month hour for opponents to file any lawsuits on environmental grounds.

Hogan also blamed federal officials for the two-year delay that increased the project’s cost by more than 20 percent. As a result, he said he would seek additional federal dollars to cover the increases.

“The fundamental flaws inherent in this harmful enterprise are finally catching up to him,” said Josh Tolkien, director of the Sierra Club, Maryland branch. Despite repeated promise that this massive expansion of the Beltway and 270 will come at no net cost to Maryland residents, Governor Hogan’s letter now acknowledges that this project may need support “potentially costing Maryland taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

However, groups supporting the project said it should move forward.

“In addition to hundreds of thousands of people stranded in traffic on the American Legion Bridge every day, failure to move forward will cost Maryland taxpayers billions in private financing, and hundreds of millions of dollars for local transportation,” said Jason Stanford, president of Northern Virginia Transportation Federation:

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