In September 2017, Governor Hogan announced a public-private partnership (P3) in September 2017 that would add up to four managed toll lanes on over 70 miles of I-495 and I-270 in Maryland, putting homes, neighborhoods, and businesses near the highways at risk of being paved over. The State Highway Administration’s website about the project includes a slide presentation on the many options under consideration.
This would be the largest P3 project in North America; the contractual agreements between the State and private companies will be for a term of 50 years.
What is a P3 Project?
A P3 partnership is a way of financing public infrastructure projects with private-sector funding, commonly for projects such as transportation, with the private entity performing man of the functions normally undertaken by the government. P3s give governments greater flexibility for funding projects, but at the expense of higher costs for the project (since private financing is more expensive than public) and frequently with reductions in State control over its own assets and financial risks assumed by the state.
The proposed I-495 & I-270 P3 Program would add four privatized managed toll lanes to the existing general purpose lanes. The companies would recoup their investments by collecting tolls from motorists who use the managed lanes, leading to concerns about the cost of traveling in these lanes and financial liability for the State if the toll revenue doesn’t cover the private investor’s costs.
The more expensive the project, the higher the tolls have to be to cover the costs. The Action Committee on Transit estimates that tolls for new lanes added to I-270 north of Shady Grove could be as high as $41 per trip.
Widening Highways Doesn’t Work
It may seem logical that adding more lanes would reduce traffic, but what actually happens is that more lanes attracts more drivers, and traffic builds up again. One recent review of several studies found that for every 1% of added highway capacity, congestion increased .68% within a year and as much as 1.1% within 5 years. (see here and here.)
In fact, California’s recently completed, $1.6 billion widening of the 405 actually lengthened average commute times!
A Highway “Boondoggle”
That widening highways doesn’t actually relieve congestion is one reason why the State’s $9 billion proposal for I-270 and I-495 landed on the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s latest list of highway “boondoggles,” calling out expensive projects that would do little to solve problems and divert funds away from better solutions.
What’s a Better Way?
The Action Committee for Transit has outlined several options for expanding public transit instead of building more highways. And even the State’s own presentation shows many options other than widening the highway.
In Maryland, a bill undergoes many steps before it becomes law and citizen participation throughout the process is key. If a legislator elects to sponsor a bill, it is introduced to the appropriate committee for consideration. Citizens are encouraged to present their views on the proposed bills by mail or by personal appearance and can provide testimony at committee hearings in support or opposition to the bill. DontWiden270.org supports legislation to block widening I-270 and set higher standards for major road projects. The following are some pending bills concerning the proposed I-495 & I-270 P3 Program:
HB-91: “Public-Private Partnerships – Presentation Reports – Environmental Impact Statement Requirement.” HB-91 was introduced by Delegates Al Carr and Marc Korman as an emergency bill to prevent the Hogan administration from rushing the P3 Project schedule. The bill requires the State to complete an environmental review before getting approval to solicit bids on the project from private contractors. The bill was presented in a joint hearing of the Appropriations and the Environment and Transportation Committees and if it receives a “favorable report” from both committees, it will go before the full House of Delegates. If it passes, it will be sent to a Senate committee and then to the full Senate and then to Governor Hogan to sign. If the Governor vetoes the bill, it will go back to the full Legislature to override the veto.
HB-102 and SB-442: “Toll Roads, Highways, and Bridges – County Government Consent Requirement – Expansion.” Delegate Brooke Lierman introduced HB-102 along with 21 co-sponsors from 7 counties. Senator William Smith sponsored the bill in the Senate. The bill would expand to all Maryland counties a prohibition on State agencies constructing a toll road, highway, or bridge without the consent of a majority of the affected counties. This bill would give counties the power to veto Maryland’s plan to add toll lanes to the Beltway and I-270 and give Montgomery County residents a say in Governor Hogan’s P3 plan. The House bill was presented to the Environment and Transportation Committee (scroll to 2:42:20) and is now pending a favorable or unfavorable recommendation by the Committee. The Senate bill is scheduled for a public hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on February 27th.
HB-663 and SB-781: “Public-Private Partnerships Projects – Real Property Acquisition – Prohibition.” Delegate Sara Love introduced her bill in the House and Senator Jeff Waldstreicher introduced it in the Senate. The bill would prohibit a State agency from acquiring residential property for a P3 project that includes the addition of toll lanes to I-495 or I-270. A public hearing is scheduled on HB-663 before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 26th. SB-781 is scheduled for a public hearing before the Senate Budget and Tax Committee on March 6th.
HB -695 and SB-788: “Transportation Climate Accountability Act of 2019.” The transportation sector is now the greatest cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. Maryland passed the Greenhouse Gas reduction Act of 2016 to reduce statewide GHG emissions by 40%; however, currently there is no requirement to study GHGs before a presolicitation report is submitted. Delegate Vaughn Stewart submitted a bill with 46 co-sponsors that would require the State to measure environmental impacts during the project’s construction phase and after completion. Senator James Rosapepe introduced the bill in the Senate. HB-695 is scheduled for a public hearing before the Environment and Transportation Committee on February 26th. SB-788 is scheduled for a public hearing before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 27th.