Last Thursday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan unveiled a $9 billion project to widen three of the state’s most heavily trafficked highways: I-270, I-495—also known as the Capital Beltway—and MD-295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. What the governor’s office dubbed the Traffic Relief Plan involves constructing two express toll lanes each way—or four total toll lanes—to all three highways. Widening the Capital Beltway and the section of I-270 connecting the growing commuter-city of Frederick to Washington, D.C., would cost an estimated $7.6 billion, which the state expects to be financed via public-private partnerships: Private companies would build and maintain the new toll lanes, sending a portion of their revenue to the state every year. Hogan’s office billed that effort as “the largest proposed P3 highway project in North America.” The revenue from those toll lanes would also fund the expansion of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, a comparatively bucolic 32-mile-long two-lane that largely parallels four-lane-wide Interstate 95. Doubling its capacity to four lanes is expected to cost $1.4 billion and comes with the added hurdle of convincing the National Park Service to hand over the woodsy route to the Maryland Transportation Authority.
On paper, this looks like a textbook example of the sort of voter-friendly infrastructure project that the Trump Administration has been promoting: privately funded and auto-centric. But in a state once considered a leader on sprawl-containing “Smart Growth” policies, this is also a kind of pave-a-thon from another era—one that comes with some extremely unrealistic cost estimates. “When I heard about the governor’s announcement, I thought, ‘There’s a 20th-century solution to a 21st-century problem,’” says Emily Scarr, director of Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). A P3 Primer America’s second-most popular governor is a blue-state Republican who has been adept at maintaining a safe distance from President Donald Trump while serving the needs of the state’s millions of suburban voter-drivers. This plan is aimed squarely at that cohort, and they are indeed hurting: Washington, D.C., now tops the list of gridlock-plagued cities in the U.S., with 82 hours of delay per commuter, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson told the Baltimore Sun that rush hour traffic on each of the highways in the Hogan plan “amounts to seven hours every weekday.” Daily, that’s 260,000 cars on I-270, 240,000 on I-495, and another 120,000 on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. “These three massive, unprecedented projects … will be