‘For the sake of our economy, public safety and quality of life, we need better roads AND better mass transit’
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (June 5, 2019) - Comptroller Peter Franchot today issued the following statement after the Board of Public Works approved the designation of a plan to add toll lanes to the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 as a public-private partnership (P3).
“The State of Maryland is experiencing one of the worst traffic congestion crises in the nation – and as my fellow commuters in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties know, it’s only getting worse every day.
“Our congestion crisis has made life unbearable for people trying to get to work on time, for parents driving their kids to practices and games and for police officers, firefighters and ambulance drivers who are trying to save lives. This crisis will not be solved simply by constructing better roads and adding road capacity. Nor will it be solved simply by creating new transit routes and services. To the contrary, the magnitude of this challenge and the devastating consequences of inaction, demand a balanced solution. This is not about roads OR transit. For the sake of our economy, public safety and quality of life, we need better roads AND better mass transit. For that matter, we also need to make it much easier and safer for people to walk and ride bikes to their destinations.
“Consistent with that balanced approach, I voted today to allow Governor Hogan’s Administration to further explore the feasibility of an innovative new idea for relieving traffic gridlock on Interstate 270 and, in later years, on the Capital Beltway – one that would be built by the private sector and not by the taxpayers. For those who may have missed today’s Board of Public Works meeting, today’s vote will simply allow the Maryland Department of Transportation to solicit bids from the private sector to build – at their own expense and at their own financial risk – lane capacity to these two, clogged interstate highways.
“Should a highly credible proposal be submitted and recommended to the Board of Public Works for our approval – which wouldn’t happen until late 2020 at the very earliest – the taxpayers of Maryland would not be asked to incur a financial obligation for this project. Rather, the state’s private partner would recoup its investment through toll receipts.
“No construction-related activities, whatsoever, will occur because of today’s vote. Not one shovel of dirt will be turned and not one property or parcel of land will be acquired without the future approval of the Board of Public Works. Furthermore, the project will not be approved by this Board until the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review – which includes the official Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) – is complete.
“While today’s vote merely represents the beginning of a very long process, I did take advantage of the process to lay down several markers that I believe are very important to the public interest.
“I insisted that we maximize this opportunity to balance this potential investment in roads with real improvement to our region’s mass transit network. I’m pleased to have secured a commitment from the Governor and MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn to direct a significant portion of toll revenues toward regional transit services – be they Metrorail, Metrobus, Ride-On or TheBus. I was assured at today’s meeting that regional and commuter bus services will have full access to the private toll lanes, which will make east-west and I-270 corridor bus services a much more appealing option to commuters throughout the region.
“Furthermore, I asked the Department to study the feasibility of monorail as yet another part of the solution to our region’s mobility challenges, and the Department has agreed to do so. These commitments, of course, are in addition to the Purple Line, which will run from New Carrollton to Bethesda and is now being constructed under the Public-Private model.
“I shared my expectations that any private proposal that ultimately comes before the Board of Public Works will feature the most ecologically-sensitive engineering and construction techniques in the nation. Before I approve any future contracts, I intend to convene a working group of experts – from engineers and planners to road builders and environmental stakeholders – to ensure that any project we adopt will meet the highest possible standards of sustainability.
“Finally, I made it abundantly clear that if this project is, indeed, to proceed, it must do so without unexpected or hidden public expense. Rest assured that at a time when too many of our taxpayers are already struggling to make ends meet, that I will not vote to approve any project that unduly exposes them to financial loss.
“Today’s vote was the catalyst for an extraordinary amount of public activism on both sides of this issue. Based on the outcome of today’s discussion, it is quite clear that many of the concerns expressed by stakeholders did, indeed, make a difference with Governor Hogan. I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to reach out to me directly and express their thoughts on this project. Please rest assured that I listened carefully and made every effort to bring your ideas to the table for today’s discussion.
“Now that we are, officially, at the beginning of what promises to be a long and thorough process, I would strongly encourage everyone to remain engaged, to demand transparency and to hold all of us who serve in state and local government accountable to those we’ve been hired to serve. It is my expectation that a positive process will lead to a balanced solution that will make our economy stronger, our communities safer and our state more livable for our families.”
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