Critics Scorch State’s Plan for I-270, Beltway Toll Lanes
Frustrations flare at third town hall meeting in Montgomery County
Worries over declining property values, the demolition of homes and little emphasis on public transit surfaced Thursday night at a public meeting in Rockville over the proposed widening of Interstate 270 and the Beltway in Montgomery County.
State transportation officials held their third public information session in the county as part of outreach efforts on Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed $9 billion expansion of I-270 and the Beltway.
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn has erred in prioritizing the southern portion of the I-270 expansion – the area south of Gaithersburg – and relying on toll revenue to finance the expansion of the northern portion that continues to Frederick.
“They’re counting on revenue from the southern portion to pay for what happens upcounty … what happens if the revenue from the southern portion doesn’t materialize,” she said.
Ron Schlesinger, of Rockville, agreed that the northern portion between Frederick and Montgomery should be the priority.
“It goes from six lanes to two [in each direction].That’s the area that needs improvement the most,” he said.
Newton noted that last year, Rahn promised that no homes would be taken in the construction of the toll lanes, but that “that has now become a question.”
A report earlier this month stated that as many as 34 homes could be razed and an additional 1,500 properties affected in some way.
Newton added that she has spoken with constituents who have seen their property values drop because of the uncertainty over the status of the project, which uses a public-private partnership model to pay for construction and operations, with a private company sharing toll revenues.
“Meanwhile, you have seniors who would like to sell their homes and cannot,” she said. “People are hurting.”
County Executive Marc Elrich, who opposes Hogan’s plan, said despite the public outreach efforts from the state, he still isn’t satisfied.
“I’ve talked with people from transportation. They’re going to say that they’re studying it and they’re studying it until they’re blue in the face. They’re not going to fit it in where they should. That stuff about 1,500 homes and 34 takings is probably true,” Elrich said. “If they do any of the work they’re talking about, they will disrupt the Beltway totally and completely for the length of construction.”
Elrich and members of the County Council have said that while they oppose the Beltway widening east of the I-270 spur, they favor making improvements to the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River.
Councilmember Tom Hucker said in not choosing any options that included public transit, the state was “basically lecturing people about how much time savings there will be” from each possible toll lane design option.
“If this were put up for a vote, it would sink like a rock,” he said.
Despite the concerns from many over eminent domain, or the government taking of property, Dave Hill, of Rockville, said that is one aspect of the project he isn’t worried about.
“If there was a major eminent domain taking, the cost of that would be prohibitive because the value of land here is so much,” he said.
There will be one more public forum in the county on the toll lane expansion on May 16 at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org