SEABROOK – A Managed Lanes study released by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) on April 13 states that the need for widening state highways will require the removal of homes and businesses in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties.
The study says 34 residential homes and four businesses would need to be taken down in six of seven options the state is exploring to lessen traffic on both Interstates 495 and 270. It states that heavy traffic on I-495 and I-270 currently last between seven to 10 hours every day.
The problem will get worse as the regional population continues to expand, expecting to grow by nearly 1.2 million people by 2040, according to the state-sponsored study.
“Property and environmental needs are preliminary at this point in the Managed Lanes Study,” the study said. “As the study moves forward, further avoidance and minimization to reduce property and environmental needs will be evaluated and prioritized. That includes incentivizing the private sector through innovation.”
After proposing 15 alternatives on how to deal with the traffic problems during the 2018 summer, MDOT SHA has narrowed it down seven solutions with toll lanes of any kind; all but one includes widening the highways. Adding four lanes to both of the highways could reduce delays by more than 30 percent, according to the report.
Depending on the option that is chosen by the state, the project’s price could range from $7.72 billion to $9.87 billion. The state plans to fund the projects through a P3 model that would allow the state to enter into a public-private partnership for the improvement of “over 70 miles of interstate in Maryland” with individual organizations to construct the new lanes and tolls.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn told the Prince George’s County Council on March 25 that after speaking with several companies interested in doing business with the state, their main concern is dealing with the traffic.
Some businesses did not decide to come to do business in Maryland, Rahn said, because of the traffic levels, comparing the amount of congestion to the levels seen in Los Angeles.
“The reality is we have a problem with congestion across much of Maryland,” Rahn told the council back on March 25. “And we are really behind the curve as far as trying to address congestion as an issue; it is having an impact on Marylanders’ quality of life, it is having an impact on economic development and the ability to attract businesses and attracted good quality employees to the region.”
Fred Giron, 34, agrees with the state’s approach in widening the highways, calling it a “must need” for state residents to get home faster. Giron owns Fred’s Touch Elegant Construction LLC and travels from his home in Hyattsville to Rockville or Fredrick daily for jobs.
He resorts to traveling the Intercounty Connector (ICC)/MD 200 and paying the tolls to get to work and back home in under 40 minutes versus going through I-495.
“I understand saving money, but me and my coworkers would rather pay for the access to a fast route to get to work,” Giron said. “Sometimes, the traffic stops, and you are just standing there waiting when you could be home.”
However, county officials have been hesitant about including toll lanes on the highways system to deal with the traffic congestion issue. During last year’s election season, Gov. Larry Hogan proposed widening the Baltimore-Washington Parkway if the state acquired the roadway from federal control. It caused the county council to vote unanimously to send a letter to the governor, rejecting his proposal.
County Council Chair Todd Turner said he is concerned that none of the alternative proposals that remain dealt solely on the toll lanes and the kinds of toll lanes that would be used. There was not enough focus was done on the transit portion, Turner said, while addressing the state’s lack of interest of including the county in the process.
“To be honest with you, other than private conversations during that course and period of time, this is the first time that you have come to the county to discuss this particular project,” Turner said. “… My concern is that there is no consultation, particularly with the two major jurisdictions in Montgomery and Prince George’s County, in respect of this.”
New Carrollton resident Alexus Reid, 25, often drives in the county as a Lyft driver and supports the decision of making the highway larger. However, the addition of toll lanes and eliminating people’s homes to make a bigger highway should not be the only solution, Reid said.
“Nobody wants to pay for toll lanes; just add an extra lane, and if they can do it without taking anybody’s property or homes then I am all for it,” Reid said. “I would tell (state officials) to tread lightly and exhaust all resources and looking at all options before making that final decision.”
Residents have been allowed to voice their concerns on the proposed alternatives on multiple workshops. The last two happenings in Prince George’s County took place on April 23 and 27 at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Suitland Community Center, respectively.