Frederick County Councilman Kai Hagen Thursday blasted a recent decision by the Board of Public Works to advance Gov. Larry Hogan’s traffic relief congestion plan for the Capital Beltway.
On Wednesday, the Board voted 2-1 to move forward with a contract and a lease related to the initial phase of the plan, which calls for the creation of two high-occupancy toll lanes along the I-270/I-495 corridor from the American Legion Bridge along the Potomac River nearly 40 miles north to Frederick.
Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot voted to greenlight the plan, while Treasurer Nancy Kopp voted against it, citing the need for further study on the environmental and fiscal impacts of the plan.
Wednesday’s vote did not authorize a construction contract but merely a pre-development agreement.
“I think it is misguided. I think it is premature. At the very best, it is inappropriately premature,” Hagen told MarylandReporter.com.
Hagen, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Frederick county executive, said Kopp was right to have requested that the vote on the plan be delayed pending further inquiry.
“The governor had refused a very reasonable request from Treasurer Kopp for a modest amount of money given the scale of this project and its cost and risks-to do a proper economic analysis comparing it from the point of view of Maryland taxpayers and other alternatives.”
Hagen said he does not expect plans to widen the beltway to actually lead to reduced traffic congestion. Traffic congestion may actually get worse due to construction-related bottlenecks, he explained.
Hagen said he is disappointed with Franchot’s decision to side with Hogan on the plan. And that that disappointment is what led him to write an email to the comptroller saying he could no longer support his campaign for governor. Hagen posted the letter on his Facebook page on Thursday morning:
“It is with genuine sadness that I must withdraw my endorsement of your primary campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor…I have never withdrawn an endorsement before…But the combination of yesterday’s 2-1 vote of the Board of Public Works and some of the things that you said and didn’t say prior to the vote, were simply too much for me to accept…and support.”
Hagen said his decision to withdraw his endorsement is unlikely to have any significant impact on Franchot’s campaign, however, he emphasized that he believes he nevertheless had a moral responsibility to do so.
Franchot’s campaign spokesperson, Ben Smith, said the comptroller responded to Hagen’s email on Thursday morning and that he “understands and respects” the councilman’s decision.
Smith also offered an explanation for Franchot’s vote.
“The Comptroller cast a vote that was in the best interest of Marylanders dealing each day with a decades-long gridlock problem that we all acknowledge exists while significantly improving this project – reducing the costs of this project from $18 billion to $6 billion, protecting the environment, increasing funds for mass transit, securing a seat at the table for organized labor and all stakeholders, as well as guaranteeing carpools and buses can use the project’s toll lanes for free. These modes are the most immediate, scalable, and cost-effective way to get cars off the road. The continued inaction and burden on our commuters’ quality of life and our region’s economic growth is simply not an option.”
Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, D-Montgomery, like Hagen, said that she too disagrees with the decision to move forward with the plan.
“I am very concerned about the vote. I think that it was the wrong decision. There are still many concerns that need to be addressed, including the fact that the environmental impact study has not been done. That is a major concern. So I think that the vote was the wrong decision.”
But not everyone said they oppose moving forward with the plan.
“Every business in Frederick County, in all sectors of the economy, will benefit from better, more predictable commuting time on the 495/270 road network,” Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said. “Just the increase in quality-of-life alone for all of those who travel down to the District and NoVa will manifest in more spending on dining, leisure and retail. More family time, more worship time, and more time for arts and culture.”
Weldon added: “As far as what it means for MoCo and Metro DC, it means they now will be forced to view this traffic/transportation network for the regional economic system that it truly is. They won’t be able to exclusively exercise petty political vendettas or ignore the interests of neighboring jurisdictions, but will have to work together to see that Frederick, Carroll, and Washington County commuter’s interests are served along with those of their own constituencies.”
Washington County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Frey also praised the plan.
“A fair number of Washington County residents work in Montgomery County and Washington, DC. In addition, a significant number of our warehousing and distribution companies’ trucks travel on the 270 and 495 corridors. The expansion of the Capitol Beltway would have a very positive effect for the residents and employers in Washington County.”