In a news release sent May 28, Gov. Larry Hogan included my name in a list of signatories of a 10-year-old letter to try and demonstrate support from local elected officials for his private toll road boondoggle.
Please allow me to set the record straight. I do not support Gov. Hogan and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn’s shortsighted plan to sell 100 miles of public roads to the private sector.
The 10-year-old letter selectively quoted from was signed by a number of Upcounty Montgomery County legislators to then Corridor Cities Transitway Project Manager Russell Anderson. The letter was in support of transit, ironically enough, and included a single line that we should also “support two Express Toll Lanes (ETLs), as a component of [the CCT] project” (emphasis added). Our letter is not even remotely similar to Gov. Hogan’s plan.
Despite the Corridor Cities Transitway project having unfortunately morphed into something not anticipated at the time of the letter — and twice defunded by Secretary Rahn — I stand by my support of reducing traffic congestion through a multi-modal approach. This approach has a significant emphasis on transit, selective road expansion, as well as other, nontraditional options such as incentives for teleworking.
If express toll lanes are necessary, then two lanes — not the governor’s proposed four — to allow for reversible lanes could make sense as an option so as not to threaten homes and businesses.
Importantly, the letter is also silent on the most costly and complicated part of the governor’s proposal, expanding and tolling I-495.
Gov. Hogan’s inclusion of my name on his news release continues a dishonest pattern that relies more on sleight of hand than actual transportation planning. From the beginning, this project seemed like nothing more than a campaign promise. With no planning, research or community input, the governor announced on a bright and sunny Rosh Hashanah day that he was going to make all of our transportation dreams come true. With no homes or property taken and not a dime from the taxpayer. All we would need to do is sell 100 miles of public highways, namely I-270, I-495 and I-295, to private industry.
Fast forward 20 months and we know a lot more. We know that this project has already cost taxpayers $90 million in planning contracts, up from the $70 million he originally tried to contract to Secretary Rahn’s former employer before the public got wind of the inside deal. In addition, buried at the end of the contract terms quickly posted to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s website without public notice is a guarantee that Maryland taxpayers are on the hook for billions in this scheme.
We also know that MDOT’s own reports show that dozens of homes and businesses will have to be demolished and thousands more negatively affected. Secretary Rahn tries to assure those concerned that they will do their best to avoid further demolition of people’s homes by using highway construction techniques like “cantilevering” and “cut-and-drop,” both euphemisms for double-decking the highways making existing sound barriers useless and creating confusion that makes Virginia’s mixing bowl seem sane.
What do we not yet know and the governor won’t answer? How much it will actually cost, with MDOT projecting a range between $9 billion to $11 billion, but most outside experts predicting as much as $15 billion. We also don’t know what the tolls are going to be, with private contractors who have already laid out as much as $15 billion in the driver’s seat and desperately in need of recouping their costs and turning a profit.
In response to legitimate concerns raised by residents and public officials, Gov. Hogan prefers to insult them by exclaiming that they are “pro-traffic” and issues dishonest press releases claiming support from me when I have been publicly critical of the project.
So here is an idea for the governor. Instead of sitting in Annapolis and tweeting attacks at people who disagree with him, I ask him to actually show up to a community meeting of his constituents and address their concerns directly.
–DEL. KIRILL REZNIK
The writer, a Democrat, represents Montgomery County’s District 39 in the Maryland House of Delegates, where he serves as Chairman of the Health and Social Services Subcommittee on Appropriations.