UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Council issued a letter to Governor Larry Hogan opposing his proposal to transfer I-295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, to the State of Maryland for expansion and the implementation of toll lanes on July 17. The proposal, initially introduced in September of last year, is part of Hogan’s $9 billion […]
UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Council issued a letter to Governor Larry Hogan opposing his proposal to transfer I-295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, to the State of Maryland for expansion and the implementation of toll lanes on July 17.
The proposal, initially introduced in September of last year, is part of Hogan’s $9 billion Traffic Relief plan which includes adding four new express toll lanes to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway as well as adds lanes to I-495 and I-270. The expansion of the Parkway requires the federal government to transfer ownership from the National Park Service to the state of Maryland.
“These three massive, unprecedented projects to widen I-495, I-270 and MD 295 will be absolutely transformative, and they will help Maryland citizens go about their daily lives in a more efficient and safer manner,” said Governor Hogan in a statement in September.
More recently, the governor further discussed the matter with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and in June. He signed a General Agreement along with DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke that commits the state and the DOI to work together to explore potential legislative solutions to transfer or exchange the portion of I-295 that runs through Prince George’s and Anne Arundel County but does not yet make the transfer official.
“Today’s progress is critical to the success of our Traffic Relief Plan for the state,” said Governor Hogan. “We look forward to working with Secretary Zinke and the Department of the Interior to conduct the necessary studies and surveys that we hope will ultimately allow for Maryland to take ownership of a portion of I-295 in order to move forward with our plan to relieve traffic congestion for our region.”
The County Council, however, disagrees that it will be of much benefit to the area.
“We encourage you and your administration to discontinue your plan to make this transfer for the well-being of all the people of Maryland, and all the people who visit Maryland,” they said in their letter.
Since its completion in 1954, the road has stretched 32 miles connecting Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. It has improved connectivity between the two areas and has provided access to local areas of interest such as the NASA Goddard Visitor Center, Greenbelt National Park, the National Wildlife Visitor Center and the Prince George’s Hospital Center, and has maintained its forest lines roads and natural aesthetic.
“The parkway is an important amenity,” said County Council Chair Dannielle Glaros. “There are communities and neighborhoods on both sides, some were divided when the parkway was built. We like it being managed by the National Park Service. It’s named after a well-known educator. We’re not sure where the governor is trying to go with this.”
In April, the council sent a resolution to the county’s congressional delegates, the governor’s office, the county executive, state delegates and the president declaring the reasons for their strong opposition.
“It really caught us off guard that the governor and his administration is continuing to negotiate the transfer,” Glaros said. “In part, that’s what led to the letter when it came to our attention. We made sure people realized our concerns.”
The council’s resolution included correspondence with Greenbelt Homes, Inc., a housing cooperative located near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, who were also greatly opposed to the transfer.
“I am of the opinion that adding lanes will not solve the traffic problems that we have in this area and through history and experience it shows that adding lanes just adds traffic,” said Greenbelt Homes President Steve Skolnik. “I think if the politicians really have the community in mind they would be working to fully fund the metro rail system and also to put more money into the Amtrak system and CSX tracks that need repair.”
According to Glaros, no one had consulted with the County Council on the decision.
“The communication has not been great from the governor about the long-term intentions of the plan,” Glaros said.
The governor’s press office stated that they had not yet read the letter and had no comment on it.
Glaros said there have been concerns from the residents that live in communities adjacent to the parkway. There are neighborhoods very close to the parkway and they are concerned about what expanding the road would mean for them as well as environmental concerns.
“I think there is a likelihood that it would end up in the courts because a lot of the overpasses on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway date back to the 30s when it was built as part of the depression era neighborhood projects,” Skolnik said. “They have a stark value and I think there would be a huge court challenge and that it would get tied up for years.”
Based on annual delay and congestion cost per auto-commuter, the National Capital Region is the most traffic-congested region in the nation and Maryland has the second longest commute time in the country. The cost of congestion based on auto delay, truck delay and wasted fuel and emissions was estimated to be $2 billion in 2015.
Hogans Traffic Relief Plan, the largest highway Public-Private Partnership in North America, aims to reduce the problems the major congestion causes but the council is still not convinced that the plan will not cause more harm than good.
“There’s a bigger conversation that we need to be having,” Glaros said. “Is it just moving cars or is it overall mobility, or is it other options all together? That’s what is missing from the conversation.”