County Planners Criticize State Plans to Widen Beltway, I-270

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) has “strong reservations” about the Maryland Department of Transportation’s plan to expand I-495 and I-270, saying it will “shortchange transit and inflict unnecessary damage to parkland while increasing emissions from vehicles.”

At the end of last month, Maryland highway officials announced that their preferred alternative for the roadwork would include high-occupancy toll lanes in both directions on both roads. That alternative includes adding toll lanes across the American Legion Bridge north along I-495 to I-270 and I-370, according to the state’s fact sheet.

The recommendation, announced in a news release Jan. 27, also includes a bicycle and pedestrian crossing across the new American Legion Bridge, which links Virginia and Maryland.

But M-NCPPC officials in both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties criticized the state’s decision.

“Any alternative that does not include substantial support for transit from toll revenue is a non-starter,” said M-NCPPC Vice-Chair and Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson in a news release. “For months MDOT has been saying that revenue for transit would be included in the project, but they have yet to make any commitment to actually making it happen.”

Anderson added, “Allowing buses to use the new toll lanes is not going to cut it – this project needs to get serious about support for transit.”

M-NCPPC also noted environmental concerns from the impact of adding lanes where the roads go through parks and over streams. The Commission has yet to be asked to review proposed mitigation plans, according to its press release.

Anderson stressed that adding lanes will increase long-distance commutes and tailpipe emissions. “We are in a climate emergency,” Anderson said in the press release. “MDOT should not – and under the law, it cannot – propose a major highway expansion without seriously considering alternatives with less damaging environmental impacts.”

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