Washington Post, 25 May 2016
Highway agencies trying to ease traffic jams usually come up with their method of choice — widen a road, expand an intersection, re-time traffic signals — and then ask companies for their best price.
But Maryland’s highway agency is about to try a new approach, one that state officials believe is a first in the country.
The state will set the price — in this case, at $100 million — and ask companies to propose new high-tech ways they could reduce gridlock on Interstate 270, one of the most congested highways in the Washington suburbs. Unlike most government solicitations, the state will provide few specific requirements beyond its main directive: make traffic flow faster.
“This is purely a performance-based procurement,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. “Whoever can move the most traffic the furthest will be selected to implement their design.”
Rahn said he doesn’t know what to expect but hopes the bidders come up with solutions that state engineers haven’t even dreamed of. The request for proposals will be released in June, he said, but a timeline for the project hasn’t been finalized.
Rahn said he believes this will be the first transportation procurement in the country that is completely open to new ideas, rather than rooted in a government-scripted plan. Even design-build contracts, in which bidders propose to build off their own designs, typically include a host of government requirements. He said he believes the solicitation also will be unique because it won’t require bidders to have done a certain amount of work in the state or in the country.
The work will be part of a nearly $2 billion transportation package that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced to much fanfare in June.
Rahn said he doesn’t expect that the ideas will get rid of traffic congestion, but he added, “If vehicles can keep moving, it has a different impact psychologically.” It’s the constant stopping and starting, he said, “that drives people up the wall.”
Whatever new ideas work on I-270, he said, will probably be applied to other highways across the state.