UPDATED: Hogan Administration Proceeds with Watkins Mill Interchange
The Hogan administration has released contract documents for the Watkins Mill Interchange, a long-sought connection along Interstate 270 that had been the subject of jockeying between local politicians and the governor’s office.
The project, which could have a total cost of about $130 million, is the subject of legislation that would take the unusual step of forcing the state to proceed with the project rather than the normal channels of a project winning local and state support before proceeding.
Del. Kirill Reznik submitted the legislation that would short-circuit the approval process.
“I think this is a terrible way to set policy. Under normal circumstances, I would never do it,” said Reznik, a Democrat who represents Montgomery Village. “I just want to see dirt turning.”
The House Environment and Transportation Committee will take testimony on Reznik’s bill Thursday.
The project—a bit north of Gaithersburg’s new Kaiser Permanente building—connects portions of Watkins Mill Road that dead-end on either side of I-270 because the highway cuts through the road’s pathway. Exit and entrance ramps would allow motorists to drive off and on the interstate.
Gaithersburg officials want the interchange in part because it is expected to help relieve congestion on I-270. It is also expected to “unleash” $2 billion to $2.5 billion in economic development, city Council Member Ryan Spiegel said.
The contract documents say bids will be opened April 20.
Although State Highway Administration information puts the project cost at nearly $129.5 million, that total includes nearly $10.3 million in rights of way, which have already been donated, Spiegel said.
The interchange has been an issue between Hogan, a Republican, and the Democrats who control the General Assembly. The project was one of 11 in the county that could be canceled because of what Hogan called the “road kill bill,” legislation that forced the administration to rank transportation projects and to say why certain projects receive state funding.
The Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016 passed over the governor’s veto in April 2016, according to the Maryland General Assembly website.
In December, Hogan called on the legislature to repeal the measure.
The Watkins Mill Interchange was one of 66 projects that would not score high enough to move forward, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chassé said.
“It’s projects like these that are in jeopardy that makes it so important to repeal this legislation,” Chassé said.
Pointing to Reznik’s legislation, Chassé said it “completely undermines” the legislators who say the decision act is advisory only.
“If they have to pass legislation to get around their own scoring system that’s proof that the road kill bill is not in fact advisory,” she said.
Reznik said he had submitted similar legislation during the previous session, but withdrew it after the State Highway Administration sent a letter assuring the procurement would be issued.
Although the procurement has moved forward, Reznik said Hogan administration officials have been unclear on what the project’s next steps are. Reznik said he drafted the bill as a precaution. To pass, the bill will likely need three-fifth’s majorities in the House and Senate—veto-proof majorities because the governor is likely to veto the measure.
“We’re going to have disagreements. That’s fine. But these kinds of games are what piss people off outside the bubble of Annapolis,” Reznik said.