After a three-hour long marathon discussion before the Maryland Board of Public Works, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was joined by Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) in a 2-1 vote on Wednesday to advance Hogan’s plan to mitigate traffic congestion along the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 by adding toll lanes and potentially widening roads.
State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp opposed the plan and was the lone dissenting vote.
The three-member Public Works Board designated Hogan’s plan, first released in September 2017, a public-private partnership (P3), allowing the governor and his administration to advance with soliciting and evaluating private investment for congestion relief on I-495 and 270.
Here are five takeaways from today’s meeting:
1) Some of the opposition appeared sloppy, unorganized and ignorant of the details of today’s proceedings
Some of the opposing groups and their fervent activists clearly didn’t understand from the outset what was actually on today’s agenda and what the Board of Public Works would be voting to advance.
The vote today only designated the governor’s traffic plan as a public-private partnership, allowing the administration to move forward with soliciting and evaluating private investment for traffic mitigation.
Significant misinformation was promulgated across social media by well-intentioned but ill-informed activists. And some just outright lied about the governor’s plan.
2) Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich wasted a trip to Annapolis
Given that County Executive Marc Elrich has been in his new job for a little over six months, a reasonable grace period should be expected and granted.
As a longtime county councilman, Elrich loved being the council’s resident gadfly, the lone dissenter, the renegade. One would be expected, however, to shift their demeanor when taking the wheel in leading the state’s most populous county. For whatever reason, Elrich didn’t act like a county executive today.
Elrich wasted his time before the Public Works Board in a bizarre one-on-one boxing match with the governor, in which he came out the loser. Outright hostile towards Hogan at certain times, Elrich wasted a valuable speaking opportunity – the room was full of media and reporters – to articulate his administration’s vision for traffic relief while highlighting policy common ground.
It may have been better for Elrich to concede his time over to Montgomery County Councilman Tom Hucker, who was nearly flawless in his delivery. Hucker was polite, courteous and practical, pointing out where he disagreed with the governor’s plan but emphasizing relief polices where they can find consensus. Hucker acted like an adult. Elrich didn’t.
In case you missed Hucker’s 7-point plan, listen below:
Elrich’s brief moment in the batter’s box today did not reflect well on Montgomery County.
Hogan astutely pointed out that he had a working relationship with Elrich’s predecessor, Ike Leggett, and he noted that he didn’t even know who Elrich was when he was negotiating with Montgomery County’s former executive.
Should Elrich be interested in working with Hogan’s administration to implement traffic relief – Elrich says he does, and we should believe him – he certainly did not demonstrate a good faith effort today.
3) Marylanders were heard loud and clear – and the Board of Public Works listened
Activists were undoubtedly heard loud and clear: Gov. Hogan said he would switch how the expansion project would be phased, moving to widen I-270 before expanding the Capital Beltway. Prince George’s portion of the Beltway would be the third phase of construction.
“This will allow a couple more years of input, study, and debate and more time for the overwhelming majority of citizens and the hundreds of thousands of commuters who sit in that traffic to convince their local leaders that they desperately want to relieve this traffic congestion on the Beltway,” Hogan said.
Activists should take a bow for pushing this change and making their voices heard. Well done.
4) Franchot played it cool – and just right
Despite the social media gripes from the habitual Franchot grumblers – of course, threatening to “pink slip” him – the state’s comptroller played it cool during today’s hearing, asking pointed, well-constructed questions, and getting to the bottom of the plan’s details, that were, at the time, still a bit fuzzy.
Franchot’s fiduciary responsibility is to Maryland taxpayers – and today he delivered on their behalf.
Pushing hard, Franchot was able to receive assurances that the project will not press forward unless the ESI and NEPA review is completed. He was able to confirm that the public-private partnership would be of [NO COST] to Maryland taxpayers. Every one of Franchot’s amendments passed today, which will increase investment in public transit. The below-the-beltway kvetches should be thrilled.
Most importantly: Franchot was given verbal confirmation today that Maryland taxpayers will not be held liable should a developer default on their financial obligations.
Franchot assured anyone who reached out to him with concerns over the project before today’s vote that he would hear them loud and clear and bring their concerns to the table. He kept his promise.
Is it any wonder why Marylanders have elected Franchot to a fourth term? And, is there any reason to question why Franchot has sky-high approval ratings?
It’s not by accident. Machine politicians, take note.
5) There is still no immediate traffic relief
While progress occurred today and consensus was drawn, there is no indication that traffic relief will occur any time soon. The minor details of the project still need to be sorted out. There will be a significant amount of time until an actual proposal is adopted and construction begins.
Motorists will be stuck in traffic for the foreseeable future – but, as Councilman Hucker noted today, “the logjam has been broken,” and action is on the horizon.
There’s a silver lining in there somewhere.
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