Proposing widening roads and putting in tolls

WASHINGTON — Maryland’s $7.5 billion plans to put toll lanes on Interstate 270 and around the Capital Beltway over the American Legion Bridge will go to the public this month for the first official feedback opportunities.

The four newly announced meetings in Upper Marlboro, Clarksburg, Bethesda and Greenbelt are designed to let neighbors, drivers and commuters offer input on the alternatives that should be considered, environmental concerns, the needs on I-270 and the more than 40 miles of the Capital Beltway from the Virginia side of the Legion Bridge through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to the Virginia side of the Wilson Bridge.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed adding toll lanes in each direction along the entire Maryland portion of the Beltway, including an expanded Legion Bridge. The lanes would connect to the 495 Express Lanes in Virginia. Similar toll lanes would be added along all of I-270 between Frederick and the Beltway under the administration’s plans, which would take years to implement.

The costs could largely be paid for through tolls. In Virginia, a group of private companies effectively paid the state for the opportunity to build toll lanes on Interstate 66 outside the Beltway and to collect the tolls.

Maryland has already met with private companies interested in building the lanes on the Beltway and I-270.

Opponents of the Maryland toll lane plans, which would likely mean further widening the Beltway and I-270, have argued that there are alternatives. Other options put forward include better buses and a train option connecting the Bethesda area to Tysons. An extension of the Purple Line, or more limited toll lane expansion have been suggested as possible solutions that could have fewer impacts on people who live near the highways. Reversible lanes could also be considered on I-270, similar to those on I-95 in Virginia.

Conceptual regional plans call for more toll lanes across the region that would be free for HOV users and buses like the existing lanes in Virginia.

Depending on how the deals with the private companies expected to design, build and operate the lanes are negotiated, some money from the tolls could be used to fund express bus services and other alternatives to sitting in traffic or paying tolls.