I-270, Beltway Expansion Plans Bring Fears of Noise, Property Loss
Sharp questions at first county public forum on $9 billion highway proposal
The potential for increased traffic noise, declines in property values and not enough consideration for public transportation options were among the concerns that surfaced at a weekend public meeting on plans to add toll lanes to Interstate 270 and the Beltway.
The Saturday meeting in Rockville, attended by about 175 people, followed the release of a report from the state Department of Transportation last week that estimated the project could result in as many as 34 homes being taken under eminent domain, with an additional 1,500 properties that could have part of the property taken and more than 4,000 other properties that could experience more noise.
Maryland’s governor proposed the $9 billion plan two years ago as a public-private partnership and the state has started public meetings on the proposals, including four in Montgomery County.
“I’m a little frustrated because the maps don’t answer how questions about how it would relieve specific bottlenecks that I’m well aware of,” said Linda Shore of Potomac.
Shore, who lives off River Road near its interchange with the Beltway, said she agrees that something must be done to relieve congestion on the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River, but worries the other aspects of the expansion project will lead to denser residential development and more noise.
“We’ve been trying to get a noise wall for a while and were told we needed to wait until the Beltway is expanded,” she said.
Others asked about options for adding more public transit, and idea that has been supported by the county executive and council.
Lisa Choplin, the Maryland State Highway Administration’s director for the project, said all of the state’s traffic studies concluded that transit was “not the answer” to relieving traffic congestion.
“But we did hear from the public about how we need to improve on the transit system,” Choplin said.
Maps of the two interstates were on display and residents were able to ask state highway planners about the project.
Rockville resident Andy G, who declined to provide his full last name, said his 253-unit condominium building backs up to I-270. He said he worries both about the possibility of the property being taken, or the property value decreasing even if it is spared.
“This affects decisions we have to make, like the money we might get from selling the home for retirement. Whether we make improvements or not. Whether our particular property is affected,” he said.
Michael Marceau, of Rockville, who wore a shirt with the message “no new roads,” said instead of the toll lanes, a better solution would be to raise the state gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon, with the money going to repair existing roads and build more mass transit.
Asked about a projection from the state that the average commute time between Bethesda and College Park would be 43 minutes by 2040, Marceau said adding toll lanes made “no sense.”
“We cannot build our way out of this,” he said.
State legislators failed to pass a number of measures this year that would have slowed the progress on the governor’s proposal and Montgomery residents and elected officials remain concerned.
Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, who once promised that no homes or businesses would be torn down, has since amended his pledge to say the state would “incentivize” contractors who were committed to not building outside the right-of-way.
State Highway Administrator Greg Slater said the 1,500 properties that could be “affected” are ones that the interstates are “touching,” and that it could require “temporary or permanent” taking of property.
“It could be an extra foot of space that we need,” he said.
Slater reiterated Rahn’s pledge not to select contractors who were committed to not taking property, but said the project is still in its study phase and that no decisions have been made in this area.
“As we go through the next part of the process, that’s when we get into the detailed engineering,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org