Taxpayers Beware: Hogan Heads Down Under

As Schedule Slips, Gov Goes Hat in Hand to Entice Lexus Lane Bidders

Press Release
September 18, 2019
 
Governor Larry Hogan heads to Australia next week in an effort to save his failing plan to build high-priced toll lanes on I-270 and the Washington Beltway. The trip follows this morning's admission by his transportation department of new delays in the project schedule.
 
After meeting Australian officials in Sydney, Hogan will go to Melbourne to seek opportunities for economic partnerships. There he will be joined by Jim Ports, head of the state toll road authority, and Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz. All three Australian firms seen as potential bidders on the governor's Lexus Lane plan, Transurban, Macquarie and IFM, are headquartered in Melbourne.
 
“The finances of the toll lane scheme are looking more and more wobbly,” said Ben Ross, chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition. “Transurban has already decided not to bid on the first phase. What taxpayer giveaways will the governor need to promise to keep the plan from collapsing entirely due to lack of bidder interest?
 
A ninety-year-old federal law appears to block construction of toll lanes on the Beltway in Silver Spring and wealthy Chevy Chase, the stretch of road that offers the most potential toll revenue. In June, the state's Board of Public Works voted to build the lanes on I-270 before the Beltway.
 
Adding to the project's financial risks are schedule delays revealed in a newsletter issued this morning by the Maryland Dept. of Transportation. The state now says that environmental studies for I-270 north of Shady Grove will not begin until next spring. With this delay, it will be nearly impossible to complete the study and procurement process before the governor's last day in office. 
 
As a result, the only contract Hogan can credibly offer potential bidders is for the 9-mile-long southern section of I-270, which is already twelve lanes wide. Adding four more lanes would only worsen congestion -- it would squeeze even more traffic into 2 northbound lanes at one end and the four lanes of the American Legion Bridge at the other. Drivers are sure to resist paying high tolls on a facility that leaves them still stuck in some of the state's worst traffic jams.
 
The initial Draft Environmental Impact Statement, covering most of the Beltway and the southern part of I-270, has also been delayed. Previously promised in December, this document is now scheduled for late winter 2020. 
 
“The governor is going to the ends of the earth to find the money to rescue his collapsing scheme to privatize our interstate highways,” commented MTOC vice-chair Gary Hodge.  Even if he can somehow lure investors into this misguided legacy project, the job of cleaning up the mess will fall to his successor. It's essential that we return to Maryland's 50-year tradition of collaboration between the state and the counties in pursuing major transportation priorities.”