The Coalition for Smarter Growth submits the following comments in response to the Notice of Availability of the I– 495 & I–270 Managed Lanes Study Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) and Updated Draft Section 4(f) Evaluation. We have also signed onto and endorse the comments submitted by the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club and separate comments by the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition.
On Wednesday, the three-person Maryland Board of Public Works is scheduled to vote on the contract to widen I-495 and I-270 with four private toll lanes. This vote is happening before critical financial and risk analyses and a final environmental impact statement are complete. We are calling on the Board to delay the vote.
Good government demands that members of the Board of Public Works and the public should know the full fiscal, environmental, and social risks of this project by completing the environmental impact study before the Board of Public Works votes — certainly before locking Maryland into a long-term, exclusive contract.
To be clear, we agree that we need to address the Beltway and I-270, but the process has been distorted from the beginning because of the power of the toll road companies and Governor Hogan starting with the conclusion first and failing to objectively consider alternatives.
Evaluation of alternatives is particularly important because the highway expansion will harm hundreds of acres of parkland, wetlands, and waterways, as well as lead to more noise, air pollution, stormwater runoff, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Here’s how you can help:
- Join the rally Wednesday morning! At 8:45am on August 11, join us and our environmental and community partners at a rally/press conference tomorrow morning. The plan is to gather at 8:45am at the Treasury Building at 80 Calvert St. in Annapolis. More info about speaker to come. Directions and parking options here.
- Call Comptroller Peter Franchot: Before 10am on August 11, call Board of Public Works member and State Comptroller Peter Franchot at 410-260-7801. Here’s what to say: My name is X, and I am a resident of (insert city). I’m calling to urge Comptroller Franchot to delay a vote on the I-495 & I-270 initial contract until after the final Environmental Impact Statement is complete and we know the risks. Talking points can be found here.
- Testify or submit written comments as soon as possible:
- Submit written testimony to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Treasurer@treasurer.state.md.us
- You can testify in-person at the Treasurer’s Office in Annapolis or virtually. Send request to email@example.com and specify you want to testify in opposition on item 11-GM.
This project isn’t worth the high cost to parks, streams, neighborhoods, taxpayers, and drivers. Instead of investing in transit-oriented communities — especially in Prince George’s County — it condemns residents of the east side of our region to forever having more costly, long commutes. Read more in CSG’s executive director’s op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.
COALITION FOR SMARTER GROWTH
For Immediate Release
July 21, 2021
Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director, 703-599-6437
Transportation Planning Board Re-Vote on Governor Hogan’s Toll Lanes
Governor Hogan’s strong-arming further exposes biases and flaws in Beltway/270 study, and the distortions of the P3 approach
Today, the regional Transportation Planning Board voted to reinstate the Beltway/I-270 toll lanes project in the long-range transportation plan for air quality modeling. The revote followed a massive political campaign by Governor Hogan, including threats to cut projects, removals of toll road opponents and appointments of supporters, and weak promises of additional investment in transit.
“Rather than establishing the merits of his toll lanes project, Governor Hogan has reinforced the serious bias and flaws in his approach to the Capital Beltway and I-270,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “He started with the conclusion that he wanted private toll lanes and has failed to analyze comprehensive alternatives.”
“The toll lanes would reinforce the East-West economic divide in our region condemning Prince George’s commuters to either paying very high tolls or sitting in the general-purpose lane traffic that the toll road companies depend on to generate their profits. A far better alternative is Maryland investment in transit-oriented development on the east side of the region, which would increase jobs, shorten commutes, even out the flows on the Beltway and Metrorail, and help address the E-W economic and racial divide,” said Schwartz.
“The P3 process in Virginia and Maryland is resulting in undue influence by multinational corporations, prejudging and biasing the outcome of environmental and alternatives studies,” said Schwartz. “The premature approval of 495Next in Virginia created a threat of a bottleneck at the American Legion Bridge, which has become a way to force concerned Virginia and Maryland jurisdictions to support the further extension of the toll lanes into Maryland.”
“Not only are we not getting objective evaluation of alternatives, these projects also fail to adequately fund good, effective transit, and include non-compete clauses that potentially block important transit investments such as future Metrorail or light rail at the American Legion Bridge.”
“It is astounding to see our local and state leaders pressing forward with massive highway expansion in the face of the existential threat of climate change. In the past weeks, we have heard more about the melting of ice sheets in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica, massive fires in the Western US, deadly flooding in Europe, the US and China, and shellfish cooking on the beaches of Canada amid record heat waves,” said Schwartz. “As this vote took place today, the DC region has a Code Orange, unhealthy air due to particulate pollution from the haze from massive Western wildfires.”
“Going forward, we are urging the Maryland Board of Public Works to delay action on contracts until completion of the environmental impact studies and the addition of a TOD/transit/demand management alternative,” concluded Schwartz.
Our thanks to the following elected officials and their jurisdictions who stood up for fighting climate change, and for transit and sustainable, equitable communities: Mayor Patrick Wojahn (College Park), Mayor Emmett Jordan (Greenbelt), County Executive Marc Elrich ( Montgomery County), Mayor Bridget Newton (Rockville), Councilmember Kacy Kostiuk (Takoma Park), Mayor Pro Tem Adrian Boafo (Bowie), Delegate Marc Korman (MD House), and Councilmembers Brooke Pinto, Charles Allen, and Christina Henderson (DC).
July 20, 2021
Hon. Charles Allen
Chair, National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board
Re: TPB Vote on Capital Beltway/I-270 and the Long-Range Transportation Plan
Chair Allen and members of the TPB:
I will keep our comments short:
- Governor Hogan and MDOT have:
- Completely failed to objectively study alternatives to the toll lanes
- Put the P3 negotiations and contracts ahead of completion of the EIS, and biased the entire process for private toll lanes.
- Run a scorched-earth political campaign which demonstrates their bias.
- The toll lane deals for 495Next in Virginia and for Maryland not only lack the commitment to transit funding we need, the non-compete provisions appear to prevent future Metrorail at the American Legion Bridge and other transit investments.
- Climate change is an existential threat. Contrary to MDOT arguments, highway expansion increases driving and CO2 emissions. It is astounding to see massive highway expansion proposed while the Arctic and Antarctic melts, the West burns, Europe floods, and shellfish cooks on the beaches of Canada.
- The toll lanes would reinforce the East-West economic divide in our region condemning Prince George’s commuters to either paying very high tolls or sitting in the general-purpose lane traffic that the toll road companies depend on to generate their profits.
- A far better alternative is Maryland investment in transit-oriented development on the east side of the region, which would increase jobs, shorten commutes, even out the flows on the Beltway and Metrorail, and help address the E-W economic and racial divide.
Therefore, we urge you to stand by your vote to remove the toll lanes from the TPB’s long range plan and honestly to take the same step for the 495Next project – in order to force objective consideration of alternatives, the climate impacts, and the development of the most sustainable and effective alternative with the least impact on parks and communities.
We are running out of time on the climate and are failing to do what needs to be done to address the E-W economic and racial divide. We need your leadership.