I’ll begin with expressing deep appreciation for your public service and the service of all staff. I join others in praising your Gateway dashboard. We also appreciate the support some jurisdictions have given to dedicated bike/ped and transit investments.
The findings from your climate and transportation study are clear: The region can achieve necessary levels of greenhouse gas reductions under its adopted 2030 climate plan, We cannot depend solely on electric vehicle adoption and a cleaner grid, the region must reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled by 15 to 20% by 2030.
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.
Do you want to be able to easily walk, bike, or hop on a bus? Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy to find a great place to live that doesn’t stretch your budget? How can we make sure our neighborhoods are resilient in the face of climate change?
For nearly two years, Montgomery County has been working on a new general plan called Thrive Montgomery 2050, a blueprint for how and where the county will grow over the next 30+ years. Now, it’s up to the County Council whether or not to maintain and strengthen the Planning Board’s bold vision.
We believe the Planning Board has done a great job embracing smart growth as the most sustainable and equitable way for Montgomery County to grow and provide opportunities for everyone. On its own, Thrive doesn’t change any laws, but it will set the policy agenda for the County Council, influence the Planning Department’s work program, and impact all future master plans. It’s absolutely critical for the future!
Use this form to tell your councilmembers that you support a vision for Montgomery County that is more affordable, equitable, sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous. You can read the Planning Board’s draft of Thrive and learn more about the plan here, and learn about CSG’s Thrive 2050 campaign here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and Treasurer@treasurer.state.md.us
- You can testify in-person at the Treasurer’s Office in Annapolis or virtually. Send request to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
Fairfax County is holding two virtual public meetings next week to get input on the goals and strategies recommended in its Community-Wide Energy and Climate Plan (CECAP). This is the last opportunity to provide feedback before the plan is finalized and presented to the Board of Supervisors. The meetings will be held Tuesday, May 18 and Thursday, May 20, from 7:00pm – 8:30pm. Both will provide the same information so you only need to attend one.
Your input is critical to ensure Fairfax adopts a bold plan that not only addresses green buildings, renewable energy, and electric vehicles but also includes walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented communities as a core climate solution.
Transportation is the leading source of climate emissions in the county, but cleaner fuels and even electric vehicles won’t be enough. We must reduce how much we need to drive and to make that easier we need our communities to be easier to walk, bike, and use transit to meet daily needs.
Please make your voice heard! Attend one of the public meetings ensuring the plan includes reducing the amount we have to drive by investing in transit, walking, biking, and more homes in walkable, transit-accessible communities. You can learn more about the meetings and register on the CECAP public engagement page.
For more information on the climate and smart growth connection, you can check out this CSG report and presentation.
For Immediate Release:
April 9, 2021
Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437, email@example.com
Eliza Cava, ANS, 202-503-9141, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyle Hart, NPCA, 202-400-1193, email@example.com
Josh Tulkin, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, firstname.lastname@example.org, 650-722-3171 Douglas Stewart, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, 703-407-2790, email@example.com
Environmental Advocates Release “Best Smart Growth Plan” for American Legion Bridge and Capital Beltway
Sustainable, Equitable, and Effective
Today, in advance of pending decisions in Virginia and Maryland, leading environmental organizations released a “Best Smart Growth Plan” for the American Legion Bridge and Capital Beltway. The document reviews the current situation and summarizes the consensus recommendations of the groups.
Citing the rush by Governor Hogan and Governor Northam to a pre-ordained conclusion to widen the bridge and the Beltway, including Hogan’s push for a premature development contract with TransUrban and his YouTube video trumpeting the Maryland toll lanes, the groups are calling for an immediate pause in the projects and offering a comprehensive land use, transit and demand management solution that will be more sustainable, equitable, and effective.
“Governor Hogan has not kept faith with his public promises to complete a solid environmental study of impacts and alternatives before moving forward with private toll lanes,” said Eliza Cava, Director of Conservation, Audubon Naturalist Society. “He has instead pressed forward with a proposal that ranks as highway robbery — not just high tolls, but the theft of national and local parks, historic sites, community peace, wildlife, and a sustainable planet.”
Meanwhile, the powerful TransUrban corporation, a major donor to politicians on both sides of the river, has been sending out expensive mailers to thousands of Northern Virginia households as part of their lobbying push for the lucrative private toll lanes deal.
The Fairfax County Board will be meeting on April 13 to discuss their position on 495Next and the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board will act on the proposal at their April 21 meeting. The Maryland Board of Public Works is scheduled to meet in May to approve the pre-development contract for 495/270, even though the environmental studies are not yet complete.
“We are calling for a pause on the interconnected Maryland and Virginia toll lane projects, and are setting forth a sustainable, equitable and effective alternative that should be studied and ultimately adopted,” said Douglas Stewart, Transportation and Smart Growth Co-Chair of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. “This project should not move forward without plans for high capacity transit and robust, dedicated transit funding from both Maryland and Virginia, in order to reduce congestion and help jurisdictions meet their goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
“We decry the conclusions-first approach of Virginia and Maryland and the way the state’s Public-Private Transportation Acts undermine fair and objective alternatives analysis,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Our groups offer here, and have offered before, a comprehensive, integrated land use (transit-oriented development), transit, and demand management alternative, but both states have refused to consider such an alternative.”
“The DMV needs more green space, not less. Governor Hogan’s proposed toll lanes could bulldoze valuable national parkland and damage delicate ecosystems just to make room for more fumes, noise, and cars. This proposal threatens local communities of color and a historic African-American church cemetery. This is not a solution to traffic congestion in the area; it’s another problem,” said Kyle Hart, National Parks Conservation Association.
“We have the time and must take the time to build the best bridge for people and wildlife. This is a decision that will affect our environment and climate for the next hundred years.” said Cava.
“Our plan would improve transportation and reduce traffic, while directly addressing the racial and socio-economic inequity that continues to mark our region. Investing in transit-oriented development, particularly in the underinvested east side of the region would reduce long commutes for residents and also create jobs and generate revenue for schools and fund other community benefits, unlike Gov. Hogan’s toll lane proposal,” said Josh Tulkin, Director, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter.
“WMATA’s Connect Greater Washington study showed that building out transit-oriented development would reduce driving and traffic on the Beltway, while increasing transit ridership and converting WMATA’s rail operating subsidy to a surplus.” said Schwartz. “We are calling on all of our elected officials to support a pause, and analysis and adoption of our more sustainable, equitable and effective alternative,” concluded Schwartz.
The “Best Smart Growth Plan” can be found here.
Best Smart Growth Plan for the American Legion Bridge and Capital Beltway
This is a 100-Year Decision – Let’s Take Time to Create the Most Sustainable, Equitable, and Effective Solution
As our metro area continues to grow, we must address the transportation issues at the American Legion Bridge and the Capital Beltway. Contrary to road booster’s hopes, however, an upper Potomac Bridge is not the answer, as demonstrated by previous studies. Further, while Maryland and Virginia are right to be focused on improving the American Legion Bridge and the Capital Beltway corridor, they have been rushing to implement a pre-ordained conclusion as to the best approach,and the resulting proposal–adding four toll lanes with massive connecting (double) interchange ramps and doubling the size of the American Legion Bridge — will harm adjacent communities and the environment. The two states have so far refused to study a comprehensive, integrated land use (transit-oriented development), transit, and demand management alternative, and they have failed to develop a sustainable, equitable, and effective solution.
As leading conservation organizations, we have come together to bring clarity to the issues at stake, and to make the case once again for a more sustainable, equitable, and effective approach. This is a multi-billion dollar, 100-year + decision, and we face a climate emergency, so officials must take a second look.
Why an upriver Potomac River bridge crossing is not the answer:
- The VDOT 2015 Potomac River Crossings Study showed that less than 4% of trips that currently use the American Legion Bridge might benefit from a potential upriver bridge.
- The 2003-2004 VDOT/TPB origin-destination study showed similar results.
- A 2001 proposal for an upriver bridge prompted outcry on both sides of the river because of impact on neighborhoods, environmental and historic resources, prompting cancellation of the study.
Why the American Legion Bridge crossing should be addressed:
- The VDOT 2015 Potomac River Crossing Study showed that the American Legion Bridge is the most important crossing in need of investment outside of the Rosslyn Metro tunnel crossing into DC.
- Reportedly due to age, the American Legion Bridge needs significant rehabilitation or replacement by 15 years from now.
Why there should be analysis of a comprehensive, sustainable and equitable land use, transit, and demand management alternative to the public-private toll lane proposal:
- There is time to conduct a thoughtful analysis of alternatives since MDOT has confirmed that we have 15 years before the bridge structure needs replacement.
- Virginia and Maryland have used a conclusions-first focus on high-occupancy (HOT) toll lanes via public-private partnerships, without full alternatives analysis or completion of all environmental studies. In Maryland, a series of very limited, isolated transit alternatives were assessed, but not a comprehensive, integrated land use (transit-oriented development), transit, demand management alternative.
- There are environmental and historic resources that must be considered at the American Legion Bridge crossing including the Potomac River, and National Park sites at Plummer’s Island research center, the C&O Canal, Potomac Heritage Trail, and GW Memorial Parkway.
- With just 10 years to dramatically reduce the emissions that cause climate change, highway expansion is exactly the wrong way to go, as studies show that metropolitan regions must significantly reduce vehicle miles traveled in addition to achieving a dramatic increase in electric vehicle use by 2030.
- The significant increase in telecommuting expected post-pandemic by those who work in offices will lead to a significant drop in peak hour demand for road space.
- A strategy of buildout of transit-oriented development at our Metro, Purple Line and Bus Rapid Transit corridors, especially on the east side of the region, would be more equitable and would reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions compared to high-priced private high-occupancy toll lanes.
- The increase in flooding and stormwater runoff from highway expansion — adding more pavement, even treated to current standards, will degrade the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, preventing the region from meeting its water pollution reductions by 2025, as required by the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load.
Summary of our Alternative for the American Legion Bridge and Capital Beltway:
- We support appropriate investment at the American Legion Bridge crossing.
- We oppose any efforts to revive proposals for an upriver bridge.
- We urge all efforts to reduce vehicle miles traveled and single-occupant vehicle trips in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from surface transportation by at least 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, and 100% by 2050.
- We urge an immediate pause in pursuit of the 495Next HOV extension and American Legion Bridge/495/270 toll lane proposals and P3 contracting until evaluation of a comprehensive land use/transit/demand management alternative, and we urge adoption of a less destructive and more sustainable and equitable solution.
- We request evaluation and adoption of a land use, transit, and demand management alternative to include:
- Buildout of transit-oriented development at Metro stations, Purple Line stations, and BRT corridors. The WMATA Connect Greater Washington Study shows that TOD buildout – particularly in Prince George’s – would help correct the east-west jobs/housing imbalance, increasing transit trips, reducing vehicle miles traveled, and reducing demand on the Beltway in both Maryland and Virginia.
- Prioritization of a dedicated “Purple Line” transit connection across the river including Metrorail or light rail connecting between the Silver Line and Red Line and Maryland Purple Line, along with dedicated bus-only or bus-HOV3 lanes.
- Demand management tools: parking pricing, employer transit benefits and parking cashout, telecommuting, and (potentially) pricing existing lanes rather than expansion with priced lanes.
- Inclusion of well-designed bicycle and pedestrian connections to and across a rehabilitated or new American Legion Bridge.
- We seek clear environmental justice considerations to be brought into the highway expansion planning.
- Should officials proceed with the HOT proposal for the American Legion Bridge and connections at each end, AFTER full and objective consideration of our comprehensive alternative, then the project must:
- Include bike/pedestrian connections.
- Provide significant funding for transit operating and capital needs to ensure frequent, high-capacity transit.
- Incorporate a bridge design that supports Metrorail.
- Incorporate a bridge design that minimizes impacts to the sensitive natural and historic assets in the Potomac Gorge including water quality, forests, native species, National Park sites like Plummer’s Island, and historic assets. In contrast to the significant widening required by four HOT lanes (as much as 80 feet or more), other alternatives such as pricing existing lanes, converting existing lanes to bus-only or bus/HOV3-only lanes, and vertically separated rail could result in less impact.
- Furthermore, while we do not recommend private tolled HOT lanes, if new lanes are added, they should be added to the upriver side of the bridge so as not to require use of Plummers Island for the construction, and additional mitigation measures should also be taken to protect this historically important site of ongoing, long-term research.