Transit Backers Hit Hidden Plan to Spend $3.4 Billion on I-270 Widening
Regional Planning Body Votes Tomorrow
Press release issued November 16, 2010
A plan to pour $3.4 billion of scarce transportation funds into widening I-270 was denounced by transit advocates one day before a scheduled vote by the Washington region's Transportation Planning Board.
Transit backers said the money would be better spent on MARC commuter rail. An expansion plan for MARC has seen little progress since it was issued in 2007 and is not funded in the regional Constrained Long-Range Plan, the document that will be voted on tomorrow.
In its written testimony to the TPB, the Action Committee for Transit slammed the regional body for an "utter lack of openness" in decision-making. The proposed allocation of billions of dollars was hidden in the fine print of bureaucratic documents and never announced to the public.
Representatives of ACT and local environmental groups will tell the TPB tomorrow that the I-270 project is a waste of money. When I-270 was widened south of Shady Grove, it filled up with new traffic in just a few years and was soon as congested as ever. The new plan adds lanes to the highway between Shady Grove and Frederick.
ACT president Ben Ross added that the Maryland Department of Transportation's clarification of this proposal, in a Baltimore Sun interview, raised as many questions as it answered. The state agency explained that the new money allocated to I-270 widening will come from transportation revenues expected between 2020 and 2030, and that tomorrow's vote is needed to let studies continue. But why study now, if construction money won't be available for ten years? And why isn't the MARC expansion plan getting similar study?
ACT is concerned that this vote could undercut the search for new revenues by Maryland's Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation. Will voters, who by a 2-1 margin favor investment in transit over roads, support new taxes for transportation, if their priorities are ignored in spending the money?