Planning Commission Gives Thumbs Down to Beltway, I-270 Toll Lanes

Planning Commission Gives Thumbs Down to Beltway, I-270 Toll Lanes

Advisory group wants more transit to be studied as part of environmental review

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A regional planning commission gave the six options being considered for adding toll lanes to Interstate 270 and the Beltway an unfavorable recommendation in a vote Thursday.

The 9-1 “no” vote by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission came one day after the state’s Board of Public Works agreed to accept bids from private companies for a $9 billion plan championed by Gov. Larry Hogan to build and operate the toll lanes. Outgoing member Norman Dreyfuss cast the lone dissenting vote.

The bi-county agency, made up of the 10 members from the Montgomery and Prince George’s planning boards, is one of about 10 “cooperating agencies” required to give input to the state as part of a federally mandated environmental impact study for the project.

“What the commission is supposed to do along with the other cooperating agencies is to tell them they concur with comment or not concur,” said Carol Rubin, the special projects manager for the park and planning commission.

The commission said none of the options involve using mass transit, beyond allowing buses free use of the lanes.

The vote was largely in line with the pleas from Montgomery County elected officials to put more transit into the designs.

“They [the SHA] needed to either supplement those alternatives or address the way they’re looking at the project for the study,” Rubin said. “We felt like without transit as a component of the alternatives … it doesn’t need to be stand alone, but it wouldn’t truly address the impact of the project.”

Thursday’s “no” vote could be impactful, Rubin said, because the Federal Highway Administration must convene a meeting with other agencies, and could mandate that the state highway authorities implement more transit options into the plan.

“It opens the door to discussion,” she said.

The Board of Public Works voted Wednesday to move forward with the procurement process for the project, and switched the phasing of the work to make improvements to I-270 the priority, rather than those on I-495 and the American Legion Bridge over the Potomac River.

In an email, Maryland Department of Transportation spokeswoman Erin Henson wrote that the park and planning commission is “one of multiple stakeholder agencies involved in the NEPA process.”

“We will continue to work collaboratively with them every step of way,” she wrote.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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