Roads, Traffic, and Transit

I-495/I-270 Expansion

Issue: Should I-495 and I-270 be expanded to accommodate the current and anticipated [as of 2040] traffic.  If so, at what financial cost and at what cost to the environment?

Latest Updates.

  • 1/10/2022: The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) has issued a revised timeline for the toll lanes project. According to the updated schedule, MDOT will issue the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in the summer of 2022, rather than in the spring. Thirty or more days after the FEIS is issued, the federal government will decide whether it will allow the project to go forward. Federal approval could hinge on the project’s impact on global warming and whether harmful impacts would fall disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color (referred to as environmental justice communities).
  • 1/10/2022: the Maryland Sierra Club sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) urging the agency to require MDOT to issue a revised Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) on the toll lanes. The revised SDEIS is needed to share analyses and information that MDOT failed to include in the SDEIS as required by federal law and to address flaws in the traffic modeling. The Sierra Club letter also urges that MDOT be required to hold a 90-day public comment period after the FEIS is issued and before the FHWA makes a final decision on the project.
  • 11/01/2021: As reported in the Bethesda Beat, different opinions about the expansion of I-495 were expressed at this meeting held by the MDOT
  • 10/01/2021: A new study projects heavier traffic in 2045 — but less congestion — under Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal to add toll lanes to portions of interstates 495 and 270 in Montgomery County.
  • 09/17/2021: According to the Washington Post, a losing bidder on a Maryland contract to design billions of dollars worth of toll lanes for the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 has asked that a Montgomery County judge review the state’s decision to award the project to another team. Capital Express Mobility Partners, a consortium led by Spanish firm Cintra, filed in court Monday asking that a judge review the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Sept. 9 decision. That ruling, by MDOT Deputy Secretary R. Earl Lewis Jr., dismissed the team’s appeal of the agency’s earlier decision to deny the bid protest. It’s unclear how the court filing might affect that design work or the project’s overall timeline. 
  • 09/2021: MDOT has anounced that the public-private-partnership (P3) program to expand 495 and 270 will now be known as Op Lanes Maryland. 
  • In early August the Maryland Board of Public Works (BPW) approved the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) and the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDOT MDTA) to move forward with Phase 1 of the Public-Private Partnership (P3) Agreement with Accelerate Maryland Partners LLC (AM Partners) for predevelopment work on the New American Legion Bridge I-270 to I-70 Traffic Relief Plan.  See more on this MDOT website page.

See earlier updates below after Background section.

Background.  According to the Maryland Department of Transportation [MDOT], the I-495 & I-270 P3 Program is a historic effort to reduce congestion for millions of travelers in the National Capital Region by seeking input from the private sector to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain improvements on both I-495 and I-270.  See MDOT Overview.  The project has been estimated to cost as much as $11B.

The plan is currently divided into three phases. The first phase or segment, called Phase 1 South, covers I-495 from south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, includes improvements to the American Legion Bridge, and continues to the west of MD 5 and along I-270 from I-495 to north of I-370, including the east and west I-270 spurs.  The other segments cover the area north of I-370 to I-70 and east along I-495.

MDOT has selected Accelerate Maryland Partners to conduct the “pre-development” work, which is intended to produce a design developed in collaboration with stakeholders, the construction price, and MDTA’s final approval of the toll rate range.  The contract with Accelerate must be approved by the Maryland Transportation Authority and then be approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works [BPW].  However, award of the contract to Accelerate has been delayed because of a suit filed by one of the unsuccessful bidders.  Therefore, the pre-development contract is not expected to go to the BPW until sometime this summer.  Once the pre-development work is completed, MDOT anticipates presenting a final contract to begin implementation of the approved design to the BPW in the summer of 2022, with construction anticipated to begin in the Fall of 2022.

In parallel, MDOT SHA and the Federal Highway Administration [FHWA] are conducting the Managed Lanes environmental study in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. [NEPA]. MDOT and MDOT SHA are working with federal, state and county partner agencies on reaching concurrence on a recommended preferred alternative.  According to the Deputy General Counsel of the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, the Commission objects to MDOT’s insistence on completing the required NEPA study for the all three segments or phases of the project before starting on phase, arguing that phases 2 and 3 are several years away and conditions and circumstances could have changed by then.

Earlier Updates.

  • 05/21/2021: The proposed expansion of American Legion Bridge to Old Georgetown Road, and then on I-270 from the spur to I-370 [aka Phase 1 South] will include two toll lanes on each side of the highway. The toll rates for these new lanes are under the purview of the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA).  Tolls will vary depending on the volume and the speed of traffic. The MDTA is now accepting public comments as part of its process for setting the toll rate range, i.e., the low and high ranges of the tolls. Written comments and call-in testimony through voicemail will be accepted for the official record through Thursday, August 12, at 5 p.m.  See this MDTA webpage for information about how to submit comments. The MDTA will provide dates and details in future announcements for virtual and in-person public hearings to be held during the comment period. See the MDTA Virtual Information Room for more about how the toll rates will be applied and for all public hearing materials.
  • 05/2021: Because Phase 1 South is, in effect a new proposal, MDOT will prepare a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).  The previous DEIS has been criticized for failing to adequately detail the potential environmental damage.  MDOT plans to issue the supplemental DEIS in September/October.  After reviewing public comments, the final environmental impact statement will be issued next spring.  However, MDOT has said that they plan to ask the Board of Public Works to approve the design contract with Transurban this summer. Many are urging the Board of Public Works to delay approving the contract until the final environmental impact statement is issued.
  • 05/2021: The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced for now it is setting aside plans to add toll lanes on segments of the Beltway east of Old Georgetown Road, through Silver Spring and Prince George’s County. Instead, MDOT will attempt to move forward with toll lanes on the Beltway between the American Legion Bridge and Old Georgetown Road, and on I-270 from the spur to Shady Grove Road. 
  • 04/22/2021: MDOT’s award of the pre-development contract for Phase 1 with Accelerate is on hold pending resolution of a suit by one of the unsuccessful bidders. Once resolved, the contract must be approved first by the MD Transportation Authority and then by the Board of Public Works.
  • 02/25/2021 Maryland Transit Authority released it preliminary estimate of toll rates on an expanded I-495
  • MDOT has selected a developer for Phase I. See press announcement and more details here
  • MDOT SHA recommends that Alternative 9 be identified as the Preferred Alternative in the FEIS for the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study (MLS). MDOT SHA and FHWA concluded the extended public comment period for the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study Draft Environmental Impact Study [DEIS] which was open for 123 days from July 10, 2020 until November 9, 2020.  See links to the executive summary, the full report, and the public hearings and associated materials here.
  • The Maryland National Park and Planning Commission has announced its opposition to the plan
  • A number of senators and delegates to the Maryland General Assembly, including Senator Jeff Waldstreicher, and Delegates Al Carr, Emily Shetty, and Jared Solomon, all of whom represent Parkwood, have written to MDOT “…to express our frustration and extreme concern with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study.” Their full letter can be seen here.
  • The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has voted unanimously to reject the proposed expansion for now, particularly because of the potential impact on parkland.
  • The WSSC has reported that the expansion may require alteration in pipelines that could cost as much as $2B. 
  • MDOT announced that it has received ” three very competitive proposals from highly qualified private sector teams to become the developer responsible for overseeing predevelopment work on Phase 1″, which will begin with the expansion of the American Legion Bridge. See MDOT Press Release below under More Information.
  • The selected developer is expected to address and resolve the issues raised during the public comment period.

More Information.

Updated 1/10/2022

Purple Line


Issue: Work on the Purple Line halted because of a dispute between the state and the private contractor over who should pay for cost overruns. The questions are how will it be completed, by whom, and at what cost?

Latest Update. Maryland transit officials announce a plan to have a new construction team in place by mid-February to complete the Purple Line, replacing the contractor that quit a year ago amid cost disputes with the state.  A new schedule for completion will not be available until after the new contractor has been selected.  The Line, originally scheduled for completion in March 2022, is estimated to be several years behind that date.

See earlier updates below after Background section.

Background., The Purple Line is a rail line intended to link metro stations in Bethesda and New Carrollton in Prince Georges County.  Since the original contractor withdrew from the project, the Maryland Department of Transportation [MDOT] assumed management responsibility and sought a new contractor. Total costs of the project are now uncertain. 

Because this was [and could still remain] the most expensive public-private partnership in the state of Maryland to date, it has implications for the same approach to funding proposed by the governor for the expansion of I-495/I-270.

In late November the Maryland Department of Transportation announced it will pay an additional $250 million to ensure a 36-year partnership with the companies managing construction of the delayed Purple Line.

Maryland’s three-member Board of Public Works approved the $250 million legal settlement Dec 16.  Under the agreement, the firms will hire a new construction contractor within one year, although news stories report that it is expected to take closer to six months plus another three months or so to refinance the remaining work — the project is about 40 percent complete — before construction would resume in earnest.

Earlier Updates. 

03/05/2021: County Executive Elrich has asked the Maryland Transit Administration to explore whether the Purple Line could be single-tracked inside the Bethesda station to allow enough room for the county to rebuild the Capital Crescent Trail there.  Several Councilmembers have opposed this action. See Washington Post article.

01-09-2021: The Purple Line Transit Partners [PLTP] announced that they expect to select and reach financial closure with a new design-build contractor to complete the project in September 2021.

More Information.  See the Purple Line website and this report in Wikipedia.

information added 09/09/21