GAITHERSBURG – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich says the state is interested in trying to get private sector help in developing highway and transit projects along the traffic choked I-270 corridor and the Capital Beltway.
“Congestion along these corridors robs thousands of commuters of valuable time each day,” Ehrlich said in a prepared statement. “Involving the private sector could help us deliver the relief in years, rather than decades.”
The projects would include some of the largest and most politically charged in the Washington suburbs, where relieving traffic congestion has long been a major political issue.
Among those projects, officials said, would be the Intercounty Connector, or ICC, the controversial superhighway through Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties. Another would be a long-planned “transitway,” – possibly rail, possibly a bus line – to link Rockville with Clarksburg and relieve congestion on I-270.
A third project would widen the Capital Beltway and parts of I-270 for express toll lanes for commuters willing to pay the charge – a concept often criticized as so-called Lexus Lanes.
Robert L. Flanagan, the state secretary of transportation, said that a state request for information from the private sector to gauge interest would go out October 11 and that the response to the proposed public-private funding would be received by Dec. 19.
Based on “the increased value of commercial real estate, private companies should help bear costs,” said Flanagan, explaining the concept behind public-private funding of highway and transit projects.
“No one should reap the windfall,” Flanagan said.
If the idea of private funding for state transportation projects was met with enough enthusiasm from the private sector, the Department of Transportation would begin soliciting companies to participate in the projects.
Private companies could be involved in several stages of transportation projects including the construction, operation and financing, said Rick Kiegel, a private consultant who assists in managing the transitway project for the Maryland Transit Administration.
“We cannot be wedded to traditional finance thinking or it takes fifty years to build and that is not acceptable to Governor Ehrlich,” said Flanagan.
Officials stressed that state “does not intend to sell any system or corridor to private interests,” according to the prepared statement for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The announcement about the possibility of private funding for state transportation projects was made during a “rolling” press conference aboard a bus traveling along parts of I-270 where some of the construction would take place.
The bus traveled sections of the 13.5-mile transit corridor known as the Corridor Cities Transitway that runs northwest from the Shady Grove Metro station in Rockville through Gaithersburg and Germantown, ending just south of Clarksburg.
Plans for building alternative transportation options have been in the Montgomery County Master Plans since the 1970’s but a lack of consensus and funding have slowed progress.
Officials must now decide whether the transitway will be a light rail system or a bus system. The option of a “premium” bus service that would use the HOV lanes or Express Toll Lanes is also under discussion.
As proposed, the transit system would include 13 stations and direct transfers to the MARC Brunswick line and the Metrorail Red Line.
Depending on the mode of transportation, the project is estimated to cost between $400 and $700 million dollars.
Widening portions of I-270 and the Capital beltway to accommodate Express Toll Lanes is projected at $2 billion. Toll lanes would control congestion by charging fees based on time of day and the flow of traffic, according to transportation officials. Additional projects like the hotly contested Intercounty Connector has an estimated cost of $2.4 billion.