RELEASE: CSG Joint Comments on Proposed Expansion of I-495/I-270

November 9, 2020


Monday, November 9, 2020

Lindsey Mendelson, Maryland Sierra Club,, 240-706-7901 

MARYLAND — Today, fifty groups came together to deliver one simple message: Governor Hogan’s plan to widen the I-495 and I-270 toll lanes is flawed, incomplete, legally vulnerable, and would fail to reduce congestion for the vast majority of drivers. 

On behalf of the diverse coalition of groups, the Maryland Sierra Club and Rock Creek Conservancy released over 200 pages of technical and legal comments today, the final day of the 120-day public comment period for the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). According to the groups, “the state’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as other federal laws, and is a disservice to the public because it presents incomplete and inadequate analyses.”

The coalition comments are the result of work by Jill Grant & Associates, dozens of community experts, and three contracted consultants. They present a sophisticated legal analysis demonstrating a project that is not in the public interest, with countless unanswered questions, and would be extremely harmful for the environment and public health. 

The comments include a new study by renowned traffic modeler Norm Marshall that shows expanding I-495 and I-270 will shift traffic into the peak hours and create or exacerbate bottlenecks at the ends of the toll lanes and on connecting roads. There would be no congestion improvements for the majority of drivers and no benefits for non-users of the toll lanes.

Meanwhile, the DEIS presents an incomplete and unclear estimate of capital costs and revenues and ignores significant financial costs the project would impose on Maryland communities. These costs include a direct subsidy to a private developer, costs of relocation of utilities, decreases in property values, and public-private partnership (P3) financial risks.

The comments describe the DEIS’s failure to adequately assess impacts to parkland, air and water quality, adjacent and environmental justice communities, and historic and cultural resources. The report also describes how the Maryland Department of Transportation refused to provide key information to the public–denying, delaying or charging the Sierra Club and other groups $300,000 for public information requests that would have shed more light on this project. 

“Our analysis shows that Governor Hogan’s highway boondoggle will not solve congestion; instead, it will be a disaster for our climate and health and cause further harm to communities already impacted by environmental injustices. We must invest in equitable solutions that actually increase mobility and connectivity across the region. We are grateful for the groundswell of partner and community support in this major effort and thank everyone who has voiced their concerns about this flawed and harmful project.” –Josh Tulkin, Director, Maryland Sierra Club  

“Rock Creek is a primary driver of quality of life in our region – for people and for our ecosystems. The state’s study offers few details for a plan to permanently remove land from the Rock Creek stream valley parks and make up for impacts to water quality with changes many miles away. Their plan strips local residents of quality of life benefits in favor of short-lived travel time benefits for drivers and at a great cost to the taxpayers of Maryland and to downstream communities. The P3 calls for innovative techniques, yet the state’s proposal represents a complete failure of imagination.” –Jeanne Braha, Executive Director, Rock Creek Conservancy

“The draft environmental impact statement does not consider any real alternatives to highway expansion and consistently fails to take a hard look at the environmental and health impacts of the project, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Because of the extensive failings of the statement, along with the many harms to air quality, water quality, parklands, and historical and cultural resources that the expansion would cause, the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration should not move forward with the project.” –Ian Fisher, Jill Grant & Associates

“The proposed expansion of the I-495 Beltway and I-270 is the wrong path for Maryland’s transportation networks – instead of decreasing congestion, it would only increase traffic and pollution and damage our neighborhoods and our environment. It’s time for our state to work with local communities on developing stronger solutions to our transportation challenges that are more sustainable for our environment and work better for our residents.” –Patrick L. Wojahn, Mayor, City of College Park, Maryland

“This study represents a failure to protect people and the environment. It fails to show how wildlife and wild places will be hurt by water pollution, air pollution, and forest loss. It fails to account for climate change by considering an alternative that relies on public transit rather than more pavement and more cars. It fails to account for the people who will be harmed by more air pollution. Maryland is better than this. There are cheaper, longer-lasting, more equitable and sustainable solutions to traffic than adding more luxury lanes.” –Eliza Cava, Director of Conservation, Audubon Naturalist Society

“MDOT started with the conclusion: private toll lanes. But we know that the best path to lessen congestion and create a greener world is a comprehensive transit, land use, demand management solution. More highway lanes and more driving is the absolute wrong way to go during the climate crisis.” –Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth

“The proposed Capital Beltway-widening project would adversely affect the National Register-eligible site of Morningstar Moses Cemetery/Hall in the historic African American community of Gibson Grove in Cabin John, MD.  This site, consisting of a sensitive, extant burial ground containing an estimated 80 bodies and the foundation of the county’s only remaining Moses Hall, already suffered from racial injustice and adverse environmental impacts in the 1960s when the highway’s initial construction concretely separated it from Gibson Grove AME Zion Church, the community’s other lynchpin. The Friends of Moses Hall OPPOSES any planned highway construction that would further desecrate and damage the Morningstar Moses Cemetery/Hall, an important cultural and historic African American resource.” –Diane Baxter, Community Descendant, Friends of Moses Hall

“The Purple Line P3 is in disarray because, despite all of MDOT’s study and preparation, the private partner abandoned the project. The tollway DEIS fails to provide the detail or assurance that the $11 billion Beltway P3 proposal won’t collapse like the Purple Line, won’t cost taxpayers billions of un-budgeted dollars, and won’t force commuters to choose between bad-as-ever traffic and unaffordable $50 tolls.” –Brad German, Co-Chair, Citizens Against Beltway Expansion 

“Every year, more than 20 million people visit the C&O Canal, Greenbelt, Rock Creek and four more national parks in the Capital region. If the Maryland Department of Transportation adopts this ill-advised plan, the air and water in these parks will be dirtier, and park visitors will lose access to valuable green space within park borders. MDOT must reject this proposal and embrace proven transit-friendly alternatives that address traffic congestion while protecting our national parks.” –Pam Goddard, Senior Program Director, Mid-Atlantic Region, National Parks Conservation Association 

“North Hills of Sligo Creek Civic Association opposes efforts to move forward with the P3 project during the COVID-19 pandemic and believes that the cost of this project to our community and environment has not been thoroughly accounted for. We are also concerned that the DEIS fails to provide for any other transportation alternatives or options to take cars off the road. The negative environmental, economic and social impacts of expanding these highways will be borne by the adjacent neighborhoods.” –Eric Cathcart, President, North Hills of Sligo Creek Civic Association 


Prior to the new information presented in these comments, recent headlines have broken news of the high tolls, the 21 utilities that would need to be involved, fundamentally flawed traffic modeling, and rebukes by the bi-county parks and planning commission and Montgomery County Council and Executive.