Bethesda | Transportation

State expects I-495/I-270 widening to proceed despite Navy’s opposition

In protest letter, Navy says it won’t ‘cede’ property

The Capital Beltway near the I-270 interchange in Bethesda

VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS USER FAMARTIN

Although the U.S. Navy has spoken strongly against Maryland’s I-495/I-270 widening project, state officials said they remain “confident” they can work out a deal to help make it happen.

The Navy commented on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in a Nov. 4 letter by Capt. Mary Seymour, the commanding officer at Naval Support Activity Bethesda.

In the letter, Seymour wrote that although the state’s Department of Transportation asserts that it will acquire Navy property for the construction of the toll roads, the Navy “will not cede any property for the construction of this toll road.”

The Navy has expressed this sentiment in multiple letters, she wrote.

“Doing so would compromise Antiterrorism/Force Protection guidelines and impact the NSA Bethesda mission,” Seymour wrote. “The Navy requests the project remove the property acquisition from consideration in the build alternatives analysis.”

In a statement provided to Bethesda Beat Tuesday afternoon, the State Highway Administration (SHA) wrote that it has “successfully collaborated” with the Navy in the past on transportation projects, including improvements in Bethesda to accommodate Base Realignment and Closure initiatives.

The state is “confident that we will partner together again to provide congestion relief for the users of I-495 and I-270 while ensuring critical national security functions are not compromised in any manner,” the statement says. “We are committed to working with them to minimize or eliminate any impact as further detail design is developed.”

“It’s important that we fully understand the Navy’s limitations now with their comments, so we can best work together in the years to come,” the statement says.

The state is proposing widening I-495 and I-270 through a public-private partnership, which would be reimbursed by toll revenues.

The project, which is aimed at alleviating traffic bottlenecking on the stretch, is estimated to cost between $9 billion and $11 billion. Gov. Larry Hogan proposed the project in 2017.

Six alternatives for the widening are included in the DEIS, most of which recommend adding two lanes on either side of I-495 and I-270 to accommodate high-occupancy vehicles and those opting to pay tolls.

Seymour didn’t stop with her opposition to ceding property at the base, which is also home to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

She also wrote that the state’s analysis of the construction footprint to be “woefully inadequate” and that the DEIS indicates disruption to mission critical infrastructure in the northeast corner of the widening project, without providing any technical information on the potential size and duration of the impacts.

“Impacts to those facilities and infrastructure will cause an immediate degradation of installation support services to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and mission critical constructions,” Seymour wrote. “This is a direct contradiction to the DEIS assumption that ‘impacts to any individual facility would not alter access to or use of the hospital facilities.’”

The letter says the DEIS also falls short of considering any impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic on road and mass transit.

“These impacts are changing commuter behavior and should be reflected in this document,” Seymour wrote.

According to SHA, the state received close to 3,000 comments on the DEIS over the 120-day public comment period, which concluded on Nov. 9. State officials are currently reviewing the comments and conducting additional analysis.

“Giving all comments proper consideration takes time and is our immediate focus,” SHA wrote in its statement. “This will include continuing discussions with our agency partners and others to reach mutually beneficial solutions as this National Environmental Policy Act process continues.”

Responses to the comments will be included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. It was not immediately clear when the FEIS would be released.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.