@BryanRenbaum
bryan@marylandreporter.com

Traffic congestion estimates in the Maryland-Washington, D.C. metropolitan area are stable despite the region’s rapid population growth, the acting secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation told a panel of state lawmakers on Tuesday.

“One of the things that I’ve found, even where because we’re such a government-centered population, that many of our congestion numbers continue to be stable no matter what is happening from an economic perspective because we have such a high instance of our workforce that really works in that government sector,” Greg Slater told the House Environment and Transportation Committee at a briefing on highway construction.

Slater said that congestion continues to grow at a cost of $1.7 billion annually in the national capital region and that the average commuter spends about 87 hours in traffic each year. The cost is estimated by the “value of time and fuel costs,” he said.

MDOT is studying more than 70 highway improvement plans, he said.

“The first one is the managed-lane study, which is 48 miles from [I-]495 to [I-]270 up to [I-] 370 and then around to Maryland [Route] 5 on the beltway. We have a second study, 23 additional miles from Interstate 370 up to I-70 in Frederick, and then we have a future study from Maryland 5 across the Woodrow Wilson bridge.”

Slater said that increased mass transit is part of the solution to traffic congestion and that MDOT is working with those respective agencies, he said.

“We’re working very collaboratively. We believe our project is successful when we can build it in and integrate it with thoughtful transit options as well as integrating transit opportunities into the project.”

The department is studying plans for high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes to facilitate carpools, he said.

“We are very much favoring a high-occupancy toll solution that incentivizes carpooling as part of that – as opposed to an express toll solution.”

Slater said the department is trying to make the bidding process more inclusive so historically marginalized groups can better participate.

“Workforce development is going to be a big component of our effort and the success of our effort so we’re continuing to work with not only the entire workforce but…our veteran-owned businesses and our women-owned businesses – to try and facilitate some market where they can be a big part of this program and continue to work with the workforce.”

Del. Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, expressed concern that a stretch of highway in her district was not included in plans to widen the Capitol Beltway.

“I was pretty much surprised and alarmed to see that the study area for the P3 operation for this whole plan ended at Maryland 5, which is basically near the front gate of Andrews Air Force Base, and between there and the Potomac River, between there and National Harbor and all the entrances from southern Maryland…there’s a huge amount of traffic in that section. And that section, to me, doesn’t seem like it makes sense to exclude –because if you did everything else and you stopped – you added four lanes and you stopped right there – you would make the bottleneck much worse.”

Slater said the department is reviewing the issue.

“It’s very much on our radar. It’s just something we have to have a lot more conversation on.”

Del. Sara Love, D-Montgomery, expressed her constituents’ concerns about eminent domain issues related to the beltway expansion.

“My constituents are right up against 495 and they are understandably concerned that their property will be taken.”

Love asked for an update on the project.

Slater said no action will be taken until the approval process is completed.

“We will not acquire any properties until all approvals are in place.”

Slater said that 34 homes are affected by the project but that the department is working to reduce that number.

On Jan. 8, the Board of Public Works voted 2-1 to advance a plan to widen I-270. Toll lanes would be added to part of the interstate and the American Legion Bridge. The bridge will be rebuilt with wider lanes.

Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot reached an agreement to exclude toll lanes and lane widening for a stretch of highway between I-270 and I-95. The plan was the subject of intense debates in southern Montgomery County