Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan continued his push for Maryland to take over the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from the National Park Service, arguing that the federal agency “has increasingly demonstrated it is simply not up to the task of maintaining” the highway.
In a letter Wednesday, Hogan asked the state’s congressional delegation to support his proposal, noting the Park Service’s recent decision to lower the speed limit to 40 mph on a stretch of the highway due to safety concerns because of an extensive number of potholes.
The road conditions have reached “a breaking point,” the governor wrote.
“These conditions are unacceptable for Maryland commuters, and our administration needs your support for this transfer initiative now more than ever,” Hogan wrote. “While I appreciate your efforts to hold NPS accountable, it is clear that the state taking ownership of the parkway is the only viable long-term solution to these problems. We want to take over the road because it is the best way to take care of the road.”
The National Park Service already plans to repave the worst section of the road, from Route 197 to Route 198, this fall “as part of a multi-year, multi-phase project to repave all 18 miles” of the parkway, Park Service spokesman Jonathan Shafer said in a statement.
The service has invested more than $11 million to repave Route 295 since 2011, he said.
“We know this can’t wait, so we’ve asked the Federal Highway Administration to expedite the process to get this work done,” Shafer said. “In the short-term, we’re filling potholes every day that weather allows.”
Hogan and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, whose department oversees the Park Service, signed a non-binding general agreement in June to “explore potential legislative solutions” to transfer or exchange the expressway section that runs through Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
The road has averaged six fatalities and 547 crashes per year since 2006, Hogan wrote in his letter to the delegation. He also said “significant deficiencies” with the parkway raised in a 2015 Park Service report have not been addressed, “including overcapacity operating conditions, roadway features inconsistent with industry transportation standards.”
The Park Service has a total maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion, he wrote.
Granting Maryland ownership of the highway would allow for upgrades and “deliver enormous relief to the 165,000 people who depend on this thoroughfare for their daily commute, as well as the tens of millions of annual visitors to our state and region,” he wrote.
Hogan’s letter, dated Wednesday, was addressed to U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, as well as Reps. Andy Harris, Steny Hoyer, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, David Trone, John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings, Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin.
The delegation shares Hogan’s concerns about the road conditions and will meet with the governor next Friday to discuss the proposal, Van Hollen said in an interview Wednesday. The transfer was not among a list of federal priorities Maryland submitted to Congress, he said.
“We agree that the situation on the B-W Parkway is unacceptable,” he said. “I wrote to the National Park Service, telling them we need to accelerate resurfacing and repair efforts. I’ve been in touch with them about accelerating that timeline.”
But giving Maryland control of the highway is not simply about repaving, the senator said. The Maryland delegation will have questions for Hogan about his plan to add express toll lanes, which the governor noted in the letter, and the prospect of building infrastructure for a maglev train along the parkway, Van Hollen said.
“The delegation would be happy to consider the request,” he said. “We need a lot more information.”