CJ at Epicenter of Proposed Beltway Expansion

Maryland’s $7.6 billion plan to expand the Beltway and I-270 will be the focus of the first fall meeting of the Cabin John Citizens Association on Sept. 26. State transportation officials will be on hand to present some preliminary alternatives and to answer attendees’ questions.

This is a massive and controversial undertaking that could profoundly impact Cabin John.

Governor Larry Hogan unveiled his concept of a Public-Private Partnership (P3) program to address ongoing traffic congestion on the American Legion Bridge, I-495, and the I-270 corridor last fall. Under the P3 approach, the state would develop general project parameters and scope of the project. While there are alternatives under consideration, it is highly likely that the state would then contract with one or more private developers to design, build, finance, and operate up to four toll lanes on I-495 between the American Legion Bridge and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and on I-270 between I-495 and I-70. This is similar in some ways to the toll lanes on the Beltway in Virginia developed using the P3 approach.

As part of the process, the Maryland Department of  Transportation (MDOT) initiated a number of public informational meetings starting in Dec. 2017. Most recently, MDOT held community workshops in July to discuss a preliminary range of construction alternatives, which is an early step in the federally mandated environmental assessment process. MDOT plans to draft its environmental impact statement and select its desired alternative by fall 2019.

More information on these alternatives and the project in general.

Cabin John, especially the Evergreen neighborhood which backs up to the Beltway, could be impacted in a number of major ways by any Beltway expansion. While the community would benefit if the plan reduced gridlock on the Beltway and I-270, it could also face increased noise, local traffic, off-ramp congestion, and pollution. Most alarming is the potential for the taking of private property through eminent domain. All residents of Cabin John are urged to become informed and participate in these early phases of the project.

CJ residents Charlotte Troup Leighton and Greg Pawlson have been monitoring the project, attending several of the MDOT informational meetings and having conversations and correspondence with MDOT officials, the Montgomery County Council, the Maryland Legislature and the offices of Attorney General Brian Frosh, Rep. Jamie Raskin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen. In addition, the CJCA (Susan Shipp and Greg Pawlson) and the Evergreen citizens (led by Charlotte Troup Leighton) submitted formal comment letters during the MDOT June “call for comments” on the project. Read the letter.

With the study process well underway, a number of citizens groups have formed to follow and/or outright oppose the project. While the CJCA is monitoring their activities, it has not endorsed any other group at this point in time or taken a formal position for or against the state’s plans.

By Greg Pawlson
CJCA VP of Advocacy

 

Beltway Expansion Commentary

By Greg Pawlson
CJCA VP of Advocacy

The following are my own observations from talking to MDOT officials, elected officials, and others in Maryland and Virginia, and doing some background reading on the subject. These views are not the official position of CJCA.

It appears to me that the Beltway/I-270 expansion project has three major aspects. The first is political given it is an initiative of Republican Governor Larry Hogan. It is clear that many jurisdictions, primarily but not exclusively Republican, are using the P3 approach to build infrastructure, since they are unwilling or unable to raise taxes, including the gasoline tax, to pay for needed public infrastructure, including this current $7 billion project to mitigate Beltway traffic.

The P3 approach appears to have resulted in mixed success. (For more information, Google “P3 construction”). If one is opposed to this approach to financing and construction, and since it appears that Hogan and his senior officials in MDOT are locked into using it, then it would seem that political opposition should include electing politicians who are willing to consider raising taxes to support infrastructure development. There are already several coalitions forming in Maryland in opposition to the project, including “Citizens Against Beltway Expansion” (CABE).

Secondly, there is a real need for a comprehensive approach to solving DC’s growing traffic congestion, which virtually all of us experience on a daily basis on the Beltway and on our neighborhood streets. I don’t see any single solution, but perhaps mitigation through a wide variety of approaches. These could include nonhighway-related solutions like staggered work times (especially in our area given the number
of government employees) and more telecommuting, as well as mass transit with light rail, heavy rail and other forms of non-highway based transportation along with bus lanes, self-driving electric buses and vans and cars. At present I am not aware of any effective effort to consider a wide-reaching and innovative set of approaches to our transportation problems.

Finally, there is the MDOT P3 project itself, with the constraints imposed on the Maryland Department of Transportation by Gov. Hogan that includes only minimal state (or federal) funding for this project. This approach makes it almost certain that alternatives that MDOT will adopt will be highway-based restricted toll lanes built and administered by a private entity.

At any rate, the next year should prove very critical as this project moves forward. Given our strategic and vulnerable location, we need everyone from Cabin John to be involved in this project, and to provide input to make ourselves heard and hopefully influence the final outcome. So please come to the Wednesday, Sept. 26 CJCA meeting and reach out to Susan Shipp, Charlotte Troup Leighton or myself gpawlson@gmail.com) to learn more.

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