- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

The Maryland Department of Transportation wants to add lanes and a light rail system or bus route along Interstate 270 and other busy highways to improve traffic flow.

Transportation officials hope to begin construction on the project by at least 2010 or 2011.

“Right now the only option is sitting in traffic,” Maryland Secretary of Transportation Robert L. Flanagan said yesterday. “[But] Governor [Robert L.] Ehrlich is intent on creating options for commuters.”

Yesterday state transportation officials discussed the options for improving traffic flow along I-270 and the western section of Interstate 495.

On any given day, 260,000 vehicles travel along I-270, state officials said.

“Congestion along these corridors robs thousands of commuters of valuable time each day,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “The situation requires creative solutions.”

Mr. Flanagan said it could cost $3 billion to add one or two lanes in both directions from Frederick and the western portion of the Beltway and $2 billion to add express toll lanes between the American Legion Bridge and the I-270 split.

Transportation officials also are looking at either adding light rail or bus rapid transit on what county planners are referring to as the Corridor Cities Transitway. The route would wind from Shady Grove through Gaithersburg and end in Clarksburg.

The addition of a bus rapid transit system would cost the state $539 million, while the installation of a light rail system would cost $865 million, said Mr. Flanagan, adding that those figures are less than the quotes they received in 2001.

On Wednesday, the state will begin seeking input and interest from the private sector, specifically potential private business partners who would help plan, finance, operate, construct and engineer improvements along I-270 and the western portion of I-495. The period will end Dec. 19.

The state hopes that such a public-private partnership will speed up the process. It does not intend to sell any system or corridor to private interests.

Mr. Flanagan said the exact cost of such a project is not known.

“We know we are dealing with a mega-project,” he said.

Transportation department spokesman Jack Cahalan said no one should expect to see any construction “in the near term.”

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