Maryland proposes $9 billion plan to relieve traffic congestion

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Maryland Governor Larry Hogan proposed on Thursday an ambitious $9 billion public-private partnership to add new traffic lanes around the traffic-clogged U.S. capital region and assume control of a highway operated by the federal government.

Hogan, a Republican, said his administration plans to add four new lanes to the Capital Beltway (I-495), a ring highway around Washington, and four new lanes on Interstate-270. He also wants “private developers to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain” the new lanes.

“These projects will substantially and dramatically improve our state highway system and traffic in the region,” Hogan said at a press event in Maryland.

The public-private partnership project will include new privately developed express toll lanes.

Hogan also wants to build toll lanes on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which is operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior, and is pushing for its ownership to be transferred to Maryland. He said he started the process during a recent meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

A spokesman for Zinke said Thursday no decisions over the future of the parkway were made during the meeting.

Following a transfer, the Maryland Transportation Authority would build and maintain the new lanes and maintain existing lanes between Baltimore and Washington.

Hogan’s proposal may align with the Trump administration’s infrastructure plans. The White House wants to spend $200 billion on infrastructure over 10 years, which it hopes will encourage another $800 billion in infrastructure investment by the private sector. It has not yet offered a detailed plan.

Congress would need to approve the U.S. infrastructure spending, and lawmakers from both parties have said they do not expect to take up the issue until at least 2018.

In August, the Trump administration told state and local officials it would use its infrastructure plan to create incentives for the private sector to finance or take over public entities like bridges, tunnels and highways.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the administration wants to give states and cities “incentives to move stuff you might own off of your books and into the private sector.”

The Washington area had the highest congestion ranking among major metro areas in 2014, with commuters wasting an average of 82 hours a year in traffic, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Hogan said statewide congestion costs have jumped 22 percent since 2013, reaching $2 billion in 2015. The bulk of those costs on weekdays are tied to traffic in the region around Baltimore and Washington.

In August, Hogan and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao signed an agreement to build a $2 billion, 16-mile light rail project in the Maryland suburbs near Washington. The Purple Line project is being constructed through a public-private partnership, and the federal government is contributing nearly $900 million.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Paul Simao