Maryland is shifting gears with its plan to add high occupancy toll (HOT) managed toll lanes to key Washington, DC-area highways, announcing on May 11 it would shed most of that planned expansion on the controversial I-495/Capital Beltway segment. The state Dept. of Transportation will now focus its public-private partnership arrangement on a new Potomac River crossing for the Beltway and HOT lanes added just to a 9.3-mile segment of I-270.
The agency still plans to deliver the project as a P3, although finalizing a contract for the initial development phase remains stalled by a bid protest that has not completed its process.
The state's Managed Lanes Study originally encompassed nearly all of the 42-mile stretch of the Beltway, Washington’s perimeter highway, under a multi-billion plan championed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that was roundly criticized for its potential effects on adjacent development and the environment.
“Our intention is moving forward,” said Hogan, who is term-limited and must leave office in January 2023.
Under the new recommended preferred alternative, the state DOT will suspend planning for the Beltway’s northern and eastern sections, retaining a six-mile segment between the proposed new Potomac River bridge, which will connect with Virginia’s HOT lanes, and the I-270 spur routes.
In a statement, the agency said the decision resulted from “several months of continuous collaboration and listening to agency partners, public officials and stakeholders,” as well as federal and state transportation agencies.
A supplemental draft environmental impact statement will be issued for comment this summer.
Maryland DOT said the change has no effect on the structure of its 50-year progressive P3 to design, build, operate and maintain the managed HOT lanes. Although it awarded the development phase contract to a Transurban-Macquarie-led team in mid-February, a subsequent protest lodged by Ferrovial-owned infrastructure developer Cintra has prevented the state from allowing work to proceed.
The protest, initially rejected by state officials, now awaits a decision by Maryland Transportation Secretary Gregory Slater, according to an agency spokesman. Depending on the outcome, it could then land in state court.
Transurban-Macquarie also has not announced a replacement for its original lead contractor Archer Western, which left the team after it was shortlisted for the project last year.
Meanwhile, Maryland’s other controversial transportation P3—the 16-mile Purple Line light rail line across suburban Montgomery and Prince George's counties—scored a legal victory on May 13 when a federal appeals court unanimously rejected a challenge to the project’s compliance with federal Clean Water Act wetlands protections.
The court ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit allowing contractors to discharge dredge and fill into wetlands and waterways was proper, and that the agency had given sufficient consideration to other, less disruptive options to improve mobility across Washington’s northern suburbs.
With the ruling, the $2 billion project is free of pending legal action for the first time since 2014.
Developers Meridiam and Star America are now in process to select a new lead contractor to replace Fluor Corp., which departed the project last year after settling its own contentious court battle with Maryland transportation officials over project delay costs.
Three teams have been shortlisted to present formal proposals to take on the job.
Construction on the half-finished Purple Line, already delayed by two years, is scheduled to ramp up this fall.