The Washington region — current population roughly 5.4 million, by the Council of Governments’ estimate — is projected to grow by 1.5 million people over the coming quarter- century. Faced with that influx, public officials don’t have the luxury to engage in theological debate about the comparative benefits of transit vs. roads vs. new technology. If the region is to remain livable, prosperous and mobile, it will need more of all of the above.
That’s why Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent big-ticket suburban transportation proposals — hundreds of millions of dollars to rescue Metro, and $9 billion to add dozens of miles of toll lanes to the Beltway, Interstate 270 and the Baltimore- Washington Parkway — are a good starting point. His ideas can and will be criticized as politically opportunistic, fiscally suspect and practically flawed. Yet without being shoved to the top of the regional agenda — which Mr. Hogan has achieved by sheer audacity — the region’s transportation system will remain stuck in its current state of alarming inadequacy.
The widening of those highways — three crucial arteries for hundreds of thousands of Maryland commuters — is a bold suggestion, measured by scale and dollars. A Republican, Mr. Hogan insists that taxpayers will be spared any cost — that private-sector partners can be found to finance, build, operate and maintain four new tolled lanes along Maryland’s portion of the Beltway, and on I-270 from the Beltway to Frederick. The revenue from those projects would pay to widen the parkway with new tolled lanes, whose upgrade would be handled by the state, the governor said.
The idea that this is all “free” for taxpayers is implausible, to say the least. For one thing, the new lanes, whose tolls would be set minute by minute according to demand, would certainly be expensive for commuters who drive on them, most of them Maryland taxpayers….