Concerned With Beltway Expansion, Activists Request More Time to Review Environmental Report

Some environmental activist groups, including the Maryland Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association, have expressed concerns with the beltway expansion environmental impact report released in June.

The state is offering a 90-day period for anyone to review the document, released by the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration and Federal Highway Administration. Some activists claim that’s an insufficient amount of time to review the roughly 18,000-page report.

The long anticipated beltway project aims to add two private toll lanes in each direction in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and would allow drivers to pay an additional fee to drive in traffic-free lanes.

The report, formally known as the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, outlines the potential impact on water quality, air quality, wildlife and wetlands in widening I-495 and I-270.

It examines several configurations for the project, all of which would require the clearing of more than 1,400 acres of forest canopy and over 140 acres of parkland and historic properties. The project would also require the relocation of at least 34 homes and several businesses.

According to the report, the $11 billion project would relieve traffic congestion exacerbated by population growth in the area.In Montgomery County alone, the population has risen by nearly 20% since 2000 and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments expects the county’s population to increase by 16.3% between 2020 and 2045. Employment growth is expected to increase by nearly 25% over the next twenty-five years.

At least 40 organizations and government leaders, including U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and Congressmen Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin, have asked the state to extend the comment period to 120 days.

“The Sierra Club and other organizations have been denied, delayed or charged $300,000 for public information requests that would have shed more light on this project,” said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club. “We need more time to comment on this controversial proposal.”

The Sierra Club is a national environmental advocacy organization that operates more than 60 chapters nationwide, including one in Maryland.

According to a news release on the Maryland Sierra Club website, the report failed to address alternatives to widening which include public transit options and better land use planning.

Some activists, including Brad German, who co-chairs Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, have also argued that the state has offered “vague assurances that pollution and flood risk won’t increase.”

“We urge MDOT to give the public the time it needs to review this draft statement and to release the secret traffic and revenue studies being used to justify this massive, high-risk project,” German said. “Maryland cannot afford a repeat of the crisis plaguing the Purple Line, the Hogan administration’s first public-private partnership.”

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Samantha Subin

About Samantha Subin

Samantha Subin is a rising senior at the University of Maryland, majoring in Multiplatform Journalism with a minor in General Business. Follow her on twitter @samantha_subin

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