Federal Park and Planning Agency Questions Beltway Widening
National Capital Planning Commission can approve or deny portion of project in three parks
Members of the National Capital Planning Commission expressed concern last week about a plan that would widen the Beltway, potentially affecting 20 acres from three parks.
The NCPC is the federal agency responsible for approving interstate highway projects that cut through federally protected parkland in the greater Washington region. It met last week with Maryland state highway officials to talk about the Beltway project.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has proposed widening the Beltway and I-270 to add toll lanes to help ease traffic. The project, expected to cost more than $9 billion, has drawn questions and criticism from residents who live near the roads and fear their homes may be taken under eminent domain, as well as from environmental groups concerned about the disruption to parkland.
The Beltway traverses Rock Creek Park, Sligo Creek Park and the Northwest Branch, which are all protected under the Capper-Cramton Act, which Congress passed in 1930 to conserve parkland along the watersheds of the Potomac and Anacostia River. The NCPC has the authority to approve spending money to acquire land that runs through Capper-Cramton parklands.
During Thursday’s meeting, Maryland State Highway Administration Deputy Director Jeff Folden said the Intercounty Connector (ICC), which connects Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, could be used as an alternative to the Beltway in the next decade during peak travel times. However, the ICC could be over capacity by 2034, as the Beltway is now, he said.
NCPC Vice Chairman Thomas Gallas, who represents Maryland on the commission, said he wanted to see more evidence that the ICC would be over capacity in 15 years.
“If you come back to this commission wanting to impact the Capper-Crampton lands, and we don’t understand those layered effects, we’re going to have a very difficult time approving this move,” he said.
Commissioner Beth White, an at-large member, said she finds it troubling that the Beltway must be widened. She said that widening Interstate 10 in Houston, where she used to live, did not relieve congestion as originally promised.
“I’m really cautious about how this is going to reduce congestion. Are we going to have to widen it again?” she said.
The NCPC is one of 10 “cooperating agencies” required to give input on the governor’s proposal. Another is the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which owns the parkland in question.
Carol Rubin, the regional park and planning commission’s special projects manager for the road widening project, said in an interview Monday that the NCPC can deny approval to the state for the portions of the project that run through the Capper-Cramton land.
Rubin said the regional park and planning commission must make the request to the NCPC, just as it did in the 1970s, when the Beltway was expanded the first time.
“There have been instances where we’ve requested permission and it’s been approved under certain conditions,” she said.
Rubin said that in the last Beltway widening, which expanded the road to four lanes, the NCPC allowed the widening as long as the road was not expanded outside the right of way.
“They had to expand inward. They could not expand outside the existing boundaries,” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org