OPINION: Five Fatal Flaws in the Newest Toll Lane Plan

Opinion piece submitted by Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition

The latest version of Governor Hogan’s toll lane plan was released Friday afternoon and is scheduled for a vote by the Board of Public Works tomorrow morning. The new plan makes it clearer than ever that the purpose of this scheme is not to relieve traffic congestion, but to generate toll revenue for the benefit of private contractors.

Lack of transparency

The agreement announced last November between Governor Hogan and Virginia Governor Northam will be part of the project approval. But no one has yet seen this “Accord” in writing. How can the BPW vote on a document its members haven’t seen?

An MDOT computer model calculated the expected toll rates and profit-&-loss for each toll lane segment. This has not been made public. The Governor wants taxpayers to sign on to a 50-year business venture worth billions of dollars, yet won’t tell us how much Marylanders will wind up paying in taxes and tolls.

Beltway traffic jams will get worse

Adding lanes to I-270 and the American Legion Bridge will dump even more traffic into the already-jammed 270/Beltway merge at Wisconsin Avenue. MDOT itself says that the resulting bottleneck will add even more delay to Beltway trips within Maryland.

Source: MDOT presentation to NCPC, Nov. 7, 2019

Jobs will leave Maryland for Virginia

The plan will shift jobs from Maryland into Virginia and help turn Montgomery County into a suburb of northern Virginia. A half-century of research shows that the driving force in office location is convenient to travel to the boss’s home and golf course. This plan makes it much easier for CEOs who live in Bethesda and Potomac to drive to Tysons and sends them through heavy traffic when they travel to most of Maryland.

No real competition for P3 contract

Under the two-state “Accord,” Virginia will build the toll lanes on the Beltway Inner Loop from the state line to River Road. Virginia has already selected Transurban, the Australian company that runs the rest of its P3 toll lanes, as the contractor that will extend its toll lanes to Maryland. And Maryland’s contract for the rest of the toll lanes will be awarded on a tight schedule that leaves no room for real competition.

Transurban, as the only serious bidder, will be able to set the terms of any contract. The BPW members who approve this procurement will be compelled to accept the terms dictated by Transurban or suffer the political fallout of killing a project that they made the heart of the state’s transportation program.

Update: Maryland Matters reports this morning that Governor Hogan’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs will leave her state job on Friday and go to work for Transurban next week as their Maryland Government Affairs Manager.

Taxpayers will be on the hook

The procurement plan will be amended to provide for “sharing of risks… to provide offeror confidence that their solution may be implemented.” This opens the door wide to promises of taxpayer money. We were told that the purpose of the P3 is to shift financial risk away from the state. It now turns out that this rushed process creates new financial risks for the state, defeating the purpose of the P3 approach.

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David M. Higgins II

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in Digital Marketing, eventually leading him back to his passion. David started The Southern Maryland Chronicle in December 2017 and has grown it to become the #1 news source in Southern Maryland.

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