An informational public presentation from Maryland state transportation officials took a confrontational turn Thursday night in the Montgomery County Council chamber in Rockville. Several local and state elected officials from Montgomery County expressed concern over what they feel is a lack of transparency in the discussion of plans for the proposed expansion of interstates 270 and 495.
Gov. Larry Hogan proposed a $9 billion project last year that would add four toll lanes to I-270 and on the Maryland portion of the Beltway. The lanes are meant to ease congestion on the two roads.
The project is currently going through the National Environmental Policy Act review process at the federal level, following a series of public hearings and online input sessions.
Hogan has assured the public that the construction will be done entirely within the two roads’ right of ways and will not lead to the demolition of any homes under eminent domain. Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn reiterated that point during Thursday’s meeting.
“No, we’re not going to take your home,” he said.
But state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Democrat who represents Rockville, wasn’t convinced, when a few minutes later, Rahn said there were “no plans” to raze any homes.
“Mr. secretary, I’m a word nerd. I just want to clarify something. Earlier you said ‘we will not.’ Just now you said ‘we have no plans.’ Plans can change,” she said.
Rahn than reassured Kagan definitively that no homes would be taken.
Kagan also criticized the Maryland Department of Transportation for not holding any public meetings in her district during the last year. “The bulk of the impact is going to be in Gaithersburg and Rockville. Our district. These hearings were held in Bethesda, they were held in Frederick, they were held in Greenbelt. You totally ducked the areas where the biggest impact was supposed to be had,” she said.
Rahn then committed to hold a hearing closer to residents who live near the up-county portion of I-270.
Del. Marc Korman, Democrat of Bethesda, also questioned the input process, noting that Rahn had said during the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly that the views of residents and elected officials in each countyeach needed to be taken into account when determining which transportation proposals the state should fund. During that session, Rahn had said the state should take into account the letters sent from local elected officials with a wish list of transportation projects when scoring, or prioritizing funding, projects.
“The number one thing I heard from you during many meetings and hearings and public statements was local input, local input, local input.”
Korman said the 270/495 project was not on the 2017 wish list of transportation projects from Montgomery County officials that was sent to Rahn.
Several residents who live close to I-270 attended the meeting, holding signs that said “Don’t widen 270” and included an illustration of a bulldozer coming toward three homes. Rockville resident Pete Altman, who lives 150 yards from I-270 on Watts Branch Parkway, said he and his neighbors have been anxious since Hogan announced his proposal last year.
“If the highway were to be widened in such a way that houses and part of my neighborhood would have to be paved over, it would significantly affect the quality of our neighborhood. Obviously losing friends and neighbors is no fun either,” he said.
Altman said Hogan and Rahn’s promises not to raze neighborhoods aren’t enough. He wants the promise to be in writing from the governor as a directive to transportation officials.
“At the end of the day, we still are just banking on his [Rahn’s] promise at the dais,” Altman said. “What we need to have is binding language that bars the department of transportation from proposals that take out houses.”
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org