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Capital Beltway expansion is the wrong move | READER COMMENTARY

Traffic flows along interchanges that link the Capital Beltway and I-270. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post).
Traffic flows along interchanges that link the Capital Beltway and I-270. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post). (Katherine Frey)

Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works highlights an antiquated approach to transportation infrastructure (”Maryland Gov. Hogan to talk transportation before U.S. Senate committee,” Feb. 22). Governor Hogan’s proposal to solve traffic congestion in Bethesda by building high-occupancy toll lanes for the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 won’t work because no matter who’s paying for them wider roads will mean more drivers, not less.

Instead of fixing our current gridlock problem, expanding the Capital Beltway and I-270 will trap more Marylanders in their cars, increase harmful air pollution and foster greater inequity as we emerge from the pandemic. Despite lacking a final environmental impact statement and reliable toll revenue projections for the multi-billion dollar Capital Beltway project, Governor Hogan has selected the Australian company Transurban, for Phase 1 of development. Now, only approval from the Maryland Board of Public Works stands in the way of this wasteful highway boondoggle moving forward which could be as soon as next month.

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Maryland needs to take a fresh approach to transportation spending. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to rethink the way we get around. At the same time, new political winds in Washington are setting a fresh course with major changes to our country’s historically car-centric transportation system. For example, new Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is calling to dismantle urban freeways, and the federal government has stepped in to put the brakes on a major highway expansion in Houston, Texas.

With President Joe Biden planning a once-in-a-lifetime infrastructure bill following the latest COVID relief package, the time is ripe for transformative change to transportation infrastructure here in Maryland. We need to make our voices heard and put an end to outdated, ineffective and harmful infrastructure projects like the Capital Beltway expansion. Instead, we need to adopt a fix-it-first approach and rebuild the crumbling roads and bridges we already have and invest in healthier, cleaner and more innovative transportation options such as electrified public transit.

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John Stout, Boston, Massachusetts

The writer is a transportation advocate for the non-profit U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

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