Beltway/I-270 HOT Lane Plan Hits Another Major Snag

Earlier this year, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state was planning to drastically scale back an original plan to widen most of the Maryland side of the Beltway and also Interstate 270, to just focus on adding HOT lanes from the American Legion Bridge on the Beltway up to Gaithersburg. Now nearly four years after the governor unveiled the original widening plan, even the scaled-back version may be doomed after a local planning board voted to halt a federally-required environmental study necessary for the project to go forward.

The region’s Transportation Planning Board, comprised of state, county, and local officials from the District, Maryland, and Virginia, voted earlier this month to halt a study that would examine the environmental impact of the plan to expand the American Legion Bridge and add HOT lanes to I-270. The move to kill the study, which likely halts the highway plan entirely for now, was supported by representatives from D.C., Arlington, Alexandria, and many Maryland localities.

Both Maryland and Virginia’s state-appointed representatives on the board opposed the measure to halt the environmental study, as did representatives from Gaithersburg and Frederick. Virginia has added HOT lanes to nearly all of their portion of the Beltway in recent years as part of a larger plan supported by every governor since Mark Warner held the job nearly two decades ago. The HOT lanes have created chokepoints on the Legion Bridge at the state border. Maryland controls nearly the entire Potomac River, and, as result, the Legion Bridge.

As it stands now, Maryland state officials believe the move jeopardizes an agreement between Hogan and Gov. Ralph Northam to rebuild the aging bridge, not to mention the HOT lanes that, if built, would essentially connect northern Montgomery County all the way with areas south of the Occoquan River. The overall highway plan, which Hogan first announced in 2017, would have also added HOT lanes on nearly the entire Beltway, from the Legion Bridge all the way to State Route 5 (Branch Avenue) in Suitland.

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