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Maryland and Virginia to rebuild and expand the American Legion Bridge, governors say

The plan marks a breakthrough in a stalemate that has lasted for years on the widening of the bridge on the northwestern section of Capital Boulevard. In the past, Maryland said it did not have enough money for the company and Virginia said the bridge was for her neighbor.

The new bridge would have four express toll lanes, in addition to eight free lanes as on the current span. Tolls would fluctuate with congestion, increasing to allow traffic to flow freely.

Much of the project needs to be funded through public-private partnerships to reduce costs for taxpayers. In these collaborations, private companies pay a large part of the initial costs in exchange for future revenues generated by tolls.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (right) and Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam (at) made this announcement during a surprise joint appearance at a regional transportation forum in the district.

"A new bridge means that commuters will get to work and get home faster," Northam said in a statement, noting that the deal was a way to fix one of the country's worst hotspots. . "It's about helping people better see their families, develop their businesses and further unlock the region's vast economic potential."

Calling it "the Capital Belt Accord" and a "one-time feat for a generation" for the region, Hogan said "a bipartisan, common-sense, interstate agreement like this has escaped the elected leaders of the entire region for many decades.

"Together with our partners in Virginia, we are laying the foundation for even greater economic growth, greater opportunities for our citizens, and real, lasting and transformative advances for the Washington metropolitan area," he said. Hogan said.

The American Legion Bridge connects Montgomery and Fairfax counties, the two largest jurisdictions in the region, and is the location of numerous backups over several kilometers. Delays over the period increased by 40% between 2010 and 2017, due to population growth in the region. In March, a tanker overturned on the bridge blocked the tracks northbound for 12 hours, causing rush-hour traffic jams throughout the region.

In a related development, officials said Maryland would speed up the addition of express toll lanes on the Capital Beltway, which extends from the northeast bridge to Interstate 95 in Prince George's.

Traffic specialists were concerned that adding lanes to the I-270 without widening the Beltway and the bridge would make traffic worse. They cautioned that many I-270 vehicles would be dumped into the same smaller funnel on the Beltway and Bridge.

The project would be subject to a federal environmental review and face opposition – particularly in Maryland – from local representatives and local groups who would prefer the money to be spent on public transit rather than on roads.

"The only winners in this plan are the P3 financiers and the few wealthy drivers who can afford to pay tolls of $ 40 a day," said Ben Ross, president of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition. "All the others will remain in a traffic jam – otherwise drivers will not want to pay the high tolls that PPP financiers need to make a profit."

In addition, the widening of the Beltway in some places could be resisted because houses would have to be demolished.

The Potomac River belongs to Maryland under agreements dating back to the colonial era, when a charter of 1632 granted by King Charles II granted the river to the state.

Nevertheless, under the new agreement, the two states will share the costs of rebuilding and widening the bridge and add toll lanes on one side or the other. Maryland will assume more than half of these costs, officials said.

Officials said the project would halve travel time for many travelers, cut traffic congestion by 25 percent and increase lane capacity by 40 percent. The bridge carries 235,000 vehicles a day.

A new bicycle and pedestrian access will connect trails on both sides of the Potomac.

In January, Northam announced an agreement with Transurban to extend the 495 express lanes to the US Legion Bridge, adding nearly three miles to Virginia's high-density toll road system and a vital link to the expanding toll system of the region.

The Virginia Project includes links between Express Lanes and George Washington Memorial Parkway and Dulles Toll Road. Once completed, four general purpose lanes and two new express lanes will follow Capital Beltway in this direction of northern Virginia. In the absence of public funding by the state, the Express Lanes network will be expanded to the border with Maryland.

Transurban will spend more than $ 550 million to complete the 2.5-mile extension of the 495 expressways leading to the American Legion Bridge, according to estimates provided by the state in January. Officials said the project would help reduce transit traffic in neighboring neighborhoods.

The widening of the highway will complete the final stage of a toll system on Capital Beltway's northern Virginia and will be connected to Maryland's proposed toll lanes on the Beltway, I-270 and Baltimore-Washington Drive.

Northam said that a 2015 study on all Potomac River crossings revealed that the American Legion Bridge was the busiest and most congested and that it is expected to experience the strongest growth in the world. traffic over the next 20 years.

"You do not need me to tell you what the problem is," Northam said. "Right now in the afternoon, it may take 15 minutes or more to cover the last three kilometers in Virginia, from the point where the Express Lanes end to the American Legion Bridge. . It's bad for commuters, it's bad for our regional economy and it's just not sustainable. So we will do something about this on the other side of the river and on the other side of the alley. "

Hogan said the deal is the result of several months of negotiations between the two states since the summer. He said that Maryland will assume the leadership and will be responsible for the construction of the new bridge and that Virginia will contribute to the project as a whole, almost half of that cost.

"These negotiations have resulted in the development of a regional interstate compact, a new Beltway agreement that will modernize the National Capital Beltway for the 21st century and connect our two states through a new bridge. of the American Legion significantly improved. What about that? Hogan told the group at the transport forum.

"The result will be less traffic, more peace of mind, cleaner air and a better quality of life for hundreds of thousands of locals and commuters in the region for decades to come." Hogan said.

The Greater Washington Partnership, which sponsored Tuesday's transportation forum jointly with the Greater Washington Chamber of Commerce, has called for a plan in which the Maryland and Virginia toll systems are synchronizing and providing an integrated, efficient system. and without fault. When Joe Virginia announced his plan for the south side of the bridge, Joe McAndrew, the partnership's director of transportation policies, said that it was expected that Maryland would advance its project to coincide with Virginia's schedule and that both jurisdictions develop an improvement or replacement plan. the bridge of the American legion.

In a joint statement, Jason Miller, chief executive officer of the partnership, and Jack McDougle, president and chief executive officer of Board of Trade, described the announcement as "a decisive step towards improving the performance and reliability of our investment system. transport."

The bridge "is a crucial connection, but it far exceeds capacity and the resulting traffic creates daily frustration and loss of productivity for residents, workers and employers in the region," the statement said. "Today's announcement marks the beginning of a major cooperative effort to give these commuters the precious time they have. This will be a victory for the entire region, which will greatly enhance our ability to attract and retain workers in the Capital Region and compete in the global economy. "

For the Beltway, the project represents a kind of final chapter of a project two decades ago: the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. This span, which is the counterpart of the American Legion Bridge on the south side of the Beltway, was for many years the most notorious starting point of the region.

After years of effort, the old span has been replaced by a new wider bridge opened in 2006. The new plan would do the same for his brother upstream.

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