2020 | Government

51 organizations, officials weigh in on I-270/I-495 widening

Letter calls environmental study ‘woefully insufficient’

The Capital Beltway near the I-270 interchange in Bethesda

VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS USER FAMARTIN

A group of 51 local and regional organizations and officials sent the state more than 200 pages of comments on the I-495 and I-270 widening project.

In its letter, the group opposed adding managed lanes and said the expansion project would harm health and the environment, destroy parkland and homes, and reduce property values in the county.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and evaluation of the project are “woefully insufficient” and don’t provide meaningful review, according to the letter. The group said the study was “incomplete,” “inadequate.” and “flawed.”

The hefty document was dated Friday and released on Monday — the last day for comments about the DEIS for the project.

State officials have said the project is needed for alleviating traffic bottlenecking by adding two lanes on either side of I-495 and I-270 to accommodate high-occupancy vehicles and those opting to pay tolls.

The project would be reimbursed by toll revenues and is estimated to cost between $9 billion and $11 billion. Gov. Larry Hogan proposed the project in 2017.

Other Montgomery County officials have voiced the same or similar concerns with the DEIS.

In its final comments on the project, the Montgomery County Council asked the state to go back to the drawing board with an analysis of a “diversion” alternative to the Intercounty Connector to avoid widening I-495 through Bethesda and Silver Spring.

The council also pointed to concerns about the lack of transit plans in the project, uncertain environmental impacts, and failure of the public-private partnership (P3) for the Purple Line light-rail project. The widening project would also have a P3.

The Maryland-National Capital Planning Commission has said the alternatives are essentially the same and the limit of disturbance is underestimated. The commission also said in its final comments that the state hasn’t identified the effect on historic resources on the potentially affected land, which does not comply with the National Historic Preservation Act.

Last week, the Rockville City Council wrote a letter detailing its “extreme concern” with the DEIS, calling it “severely flawed.” The council supported a no-build alternative for the project.

Some of the City Council’s concerns include high toll rates, another public-private partnership after the problems with the Purple Line project, a lack of details on health and environmental impacts, impacts to surrounding neighborhoods, and exclusion of public transit.

City officials also said they are concerned about an increase of greenhouse gas emissions from construction and the insufficient evaluation of social equity for the project.

According to the state’s project website, the next steps are reviewing and considering all the final comments, conducting any additional analyses needed and responding to substantive comments in the study’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The group of 51 organizations wrote in its letter that it supported a no-build alternative. It said the state’s DEIS and procurement process should be stopped until more alternatives can be added for detailed study, more details are provided on project impacts to the public and environment, and an “unbiased” purpose and need statement is created.

Among the group’s comments were concerns about the project cost, toll-lane rates, effect on water quality, impacts to property, inadequate details on environmental concerns, a lack of analysis for air emissions and noise impacts.

The estimated project costs in the DEIS are incomplete and vague, the group wrote, and ignore other costs such as utility relocation, a developer subsidy and decreased property values.

The group said the joint federal and state application for a Clean Water Act permit failed to meet requirements.

“The project will harm the environment and human health and agencies should not move forward with the flawed and inadequate DEIS,” the group wrote. “We urge the agencies to restart the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process after reformulating the purpose and need statement to appropriately identify a solution that will equitably increase mobility and connectivity and reduce congestion.

“Any proposed solution should utilize the best available science and data and incorporate meaningful feedback from the public and lessons learned from failed highway expansions and [public-private partnerships] in the past.”

The group asked the state to consider alternatives that use transportation demand management and multimodal alternatives.

The organizations that signed the letter are:
● Sierra Club Maryland Chapter
● 350 Montgomery County, MD
● Audubon Naturalist Society
● Baltimore 350
● Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition
● Bikemore
● Breathe Free Montgomery
● Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church Environmental Justice Ministry
● Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
● Chesapeake Bay Foundation
● Citizens Against Beltway Expansion
● Coalition for Smarter Growth
● DontWiden270.org
● DoTheMostGood Montgomery County
● Forest Estates Civic Association
● Forest Glen Citizens Association
● Friends of Moses Hall Consulting Party
● Friends of Quincy Watershed
● Friends of Sligo Creek
● Greenbelt Climate Action Network
● HoCo Climate Action
● Indian Spring Residents Opposed to Beltway Widening Group
● Indivisible Howard County
● Interfaith Power & Light
● League of Women Voters of Maryland
● Long Branch Civic Association
● Maryland Conservation Council
● Maryland Legislative Coalition
● Maryland PIRG
● College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn
● Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions
● NAACP Maryland State Conference
● National Parks Conservation Association
● Neighbors of the Northwest Branch
● North Hills of Sligo Creek Civic Association
● Our Revolution Maryland
● Nova Citizens Association
● Rock Creek Hills Citizens’ Association
● Rock Creek Conservancy (signatory only for joint permit application comments)
● Save Our Seminary at Forest Glen Inc.
● Sierra Club
● Takoma Park Mobilization
● The Climate Mobilization Montgomery County chapter
● The Ocean Foundation
● U.S. Public Interest Research Group
● Union of Concerned Scientists
● Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland
● Virginia Parks Matter
● Washington Area Bicyclist Association
● West Montgomery County Citizens Association
● Woodside Forest Civic Association

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.