The traffic modeling was performed as part of a federally-mandated “Final Environmental Impact Statement” (FEIS) that the state released last month on Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to reduce traffic congestion. State officials said the freeway widening would also create more space in regular lanes, but critics said it would attract additional traffic and exacerbate climate change.
In the letter, Ben Ross, chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, said the Maryland Department of Transportation declined to explain the different results or changes in its modeling. The “anomalies,” Ross wrote, “raise serious doubts as to whether the new traffic forecasts could have been generated by correcting previous errors and suggest a possible bias in the model results.”
Project spokesman Terry Owens said the traffic analysis was peer reviewed and “followed accepted professional practices” approved by the Federal Highway Administration.
The latest regional traffic model used in the analysis “follows industry standards and has been thoroughly reviewed and validated,” Owens wrote. MDOT, he said, “has provided a large body of high-quality data in support of the FEIS.” The state’s efforts, Owens wrote, “far exceed those [federal] Requirement.”
In releasing the FEIS, MDOT said it had “changed analysis methods” and “performed new analysis” based on public comments it received. The state did not provide any information.
Maryland’s toll lanes would not relieve evening traffic without other improvements, the study said
Ross, a Bethesda A local resident, who has retired from reviewing computer models for groundwater flows, said he found the problems “buried in a blizzard of numbers” in an appendix to the state’s FEIS released last month.
“The numbers just don’t look like what a computer model would produce,” Ross said in an interview.
In one example, Ross said the state’s most recent analysis found “drastically” improved travel times on the inner loop of the Beltway during evening rush hour traffic between Connecticut Avenue and Interstate 95 compared to its previous analysis. However, he said the calculations did not appear to take into account, as traffic models would normally do, that more motorists would switch from other roads to the faster bypass to save time, which would increase traffic and slow speeds.
Maryland says it could curb the environmental impact of widening the I-270 bypass
The critics’ allegations come as the Federal Roads Administration reviews the project’s FEIS for approval. An environmental permit is required to receive federal funding and is typically the target of federal lawsuits aimed at blocking major infrastructure projects. Questions about Maryland’s passenger forecasts for the Purple Line, which is more than four years behind schedule and $1.46 billion over budget, were at the center of a legal challenge that delayed construction of the light rail line by nearly a year .
MDOT needs federal environmental approval before it can secure a multibillion-dollar, 50-year contract to build the lanes for a private consortium led by Australia’s toll road operator Transurban. Project advocates say Hogan (R), on a limited-time deal, is keen to secure the contract before leaving office in January, when a new governor could change, slow or stop the plan.
Maryland’s governor’s race could decide the fate of Beltway, the I-270 toll lane plan
MDOT’s initial contract for the project is also being challenged in court, where an unsuccessful bidder has claimed the state wrongfully granted the Transurban team a “pre-development agreement” to design the lanes and negotiate the longer-term contract for construction and operation .
Under MDOT’s plan, the state would add two toll lanes in each direction to the Beltway between the Virginia side of a new and expanded American Legion Bridge and the exit to Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda. From there, lanes would extend to I-270 to Frederick, with the lower portion of I-370 being built first.
The regular lanes would be remodeled and remain free. One of the toll lanes on lower I-270 would come from a converted carpool lane.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2022/07/12/maryland-toll-lanes-traffic-study/ Critics of Maryland toll lanes cite “possible scientific fraud” in traffic study