Montgomery County Council
100 Maryland Ave. 6th Floor
Rockville, MD 20850
March 17, 2022
We are writing with respect to the Council’s consideration of the draft County economic development plan. We urge you to support the removal of a recommendation on page 30 to “Cooperate with state and federal resources to facilitate expedient expansion of the American Legion Bridge, the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495) and I-270…” and to oppose any substitute language that suggests support for the toll lanes.
We appreciate the Council’s effort to seek efficient transportation in this corridor. Because the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) lacked key analyses, including on environmental justice and climate change, it would be a mistake to recommend the toll lanes project in the economic development plan. Without a complete SDEIS, the public and policymakers are denied a full understanding of the project’s impacts and an opportunity to provide input that could help shape final decisions.
Environmental Justice Concerns
The SDEIS did not include an environmental justice analysis to show whether the negative consequences of the toll lanes would fall disproportionately on communities of color and low-income residents. Instead, MDOT has deferred this analysis until the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Because the public comment process ended on November 30, there will be no opportunity for the public to review the environmental justice analysis and provide input. Embracing the toll lanes without an environmental justice analysis is not consistent with the County’s Racial Justice and Social Equity Initiative which is aimed at making informed decisions to ensure equitable outcomes.
While MDOT has consulted with stakeholders regarding the impact of the toll lanes on the Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Moses Hall and Cemetery, it has not fully assessed the impact on all of the cemetery property, including all potential grave sites. MDOT cannot avoid or minimize disturbance of gravesites at the cemetery in this historic Black community, if it does not know where all the graves are located.
Failure to Study Impact on Climate Crisis
MDOT also failed to provide an analysis in the SDEIS showing how the operation of the toll lanes would impact greenhouse gas emissions. In its comments, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission noted that the toll lanes would shift bottlenecks, but not eliminate congestion in the corridor. Their comments went on to state that, “While some of these bottleneck shifts were expected, the degree resulting from the proposed project is severe on I-270 north of I-370, on the Inner Loop on the top side of the Beltway, and on the Inner Loop in Prince George’s County.” These severe bottlenecks are likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions. It is critical that MDOT analyze emissions from the operation of the toll lanes and provide public review and comment. The County Council has established ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But it cannot know whether its plan is adequate if it does not know the impact of the operation of the toll lanes.
While MDOT is planning to conduct an analysis of the greenhouse gas emissions from construction activity, they deferred it until the FEIS. This blocks the public and local policymakers from providing input and offering steps to mitigate emissions.
Purple Line 2.0
Last August, the entire Council urged the Board of Public Works (BPW) to delay a vote on the predevelopment contract with Transurban and allow the State’s bond counsel and financial advisor to review the contract. While the BPW did not heed your call, your request for due diligence was prudent. As you know, Capital Express Mobility Partners (CEMP) has challenged the award of the project to Transurban, arguing that their bid understated the costs of the project and that this would lead to cost overruns, and delays. The Montgomery County Circuit Court recently ruled that MDOT was wrong to ignore the substance of CEMP’s challenge and ordered the agency to review it. During the hearing, the judge expressed dismay that MDOT had not evaluated CEMP’s claims that the Transurban bid was not financially feasible. If CEMP’s claims are ignored, the County risks disruption that could far exceed the Purple Line debacle.
The omission of important analyses in the SDEIS, denying the public the opportunity to provide input and the failure of MDOT to exercise financial due diligence should give you pause. We urge you to strike the recommendation of the toll lanes project from the draft economic development plan.
350 Montgomery County
Audubon Naturalist Society
Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition
Biodiversity for a Livable Climate
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church Environmental Justice Ministry
Central Maryland Transportation Alliance
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
Citizens Against Beltway Expansion
Coalition for Smarter Growth
Friends of Sligo Creek
Glen Echo Heights Mobilization
Greater Farmland Civic Association
Greater Greater Washington
Howard County Climate Action
Interfaith Power & Light (DC. MD. NoVA)
League of Women Voters of Maryland
Maryland Legislative Coalition
Maryland Sierra Club
National Parks Conservation Association
Neighbors of the Northwest Branch
Rails to Trails Conservancy
Save Our Seminary
Sligo Creek Golf Association
Smart Growth Maryland
The Climate Mobilization Montgomery County
Washington Area Bicyclist Association
Woodside Forest Civic Association