An opponent of the Hogan administration’s plan to widen two major highways accused the governor of offering inadequate assurances to Montgomery County residents concerned their homes may be taken in the process.
“I think he made a promise that he can’t keep,” said Benjamin I. Ross, head of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition. “And he’s trying to back off of it.”
Last September, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) unveiled a $9 billion plan to widen Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway and to take control of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from the federal government and widen it as well.
The move was met with cheers from commuters and transportation advocates, who crave relief from the daily grind of driving on some of the nation’s most congested highways.
But people who live near I-270 and I-495 expressed immediate concern that their homes might be subject to eminent domain and knocked down to make room for the new lanes.
On Tuesday, Hogan told reporters at a State House news conference, “The state has no plans that show anybody’s houses being taken.”
After a speech to the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, he told Montgomery Community Media, “No decisions have been made. No routes have been proposed. And nobody’s houses are being taken.”
On Monday, however, Hogan seemed to offer an even more definitive assurance.
“Not a single house is ever gonna be taken down,” the governor told Pete Altman, owner of a home near I-270 and founder of dontwiden270.org.
For Ross, the governor’s use Tuesday of the present tense — “has” and “are” — was a subtle attempt to backpedal from his earlier statements.
“It’s a reversal,” he said. “On Monday [he] said, ‘No houses will be taken, period. Not a single house will be knocked down.’ Yesterday they talked about their plans and their intentions. When they discover that they can’t [widen the roads without taking homes], or they can’t do that at a reasonable cost, then they will say, ‘Ok, well, you can’t do that, and homes will be lost.’”
Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Slater insisted that engineers are determined to “increase capacity on I-270 and the Capital Beltway within the existing right of way.”
“There are innovative solutions for transportation features in tight spaces around the world, and we want to leverage those solutions here in Maryland. We ultimately plan to seek these types of solutions from the private sector through the [public-private partnership] process,” he said in a statement to Maryland Matters.
Slater added that “federal rules require us to look at ALL options to provide congestion relief along the I-495 and I-270 corridors … ranging from highways to transit to a potential ‘no build’ option, and requires that we solicit feedback from the public.”
“To be clear, the department has not presented a preferred option at this point in the process,” he said. “Our approach is to ultimately develop and select an option within the existing right of way.”
Hogan’s plan to ease congestion on I-495 calls for high-occupancy toll lanes similar to those Virginia has built on the Beltway and I-66, with flexible pricing that varies with traffic volume.
Critics call them “Lexus lanes” because of the frequently eye-popping tolls. During part of the Wednesday morning rush hour, a portion of I-66 cost a single driver $46.76 to traverse, according to The Washington Post.
Ross, whose advocacy for the Hogan-approved Purple Line dates back to the 1990s, said state officials pledging not to take existing homes when they plan to add four lanes to interstate highways aren’t being honest.
“The houses on both sides of the Beltway are too close to leave room for any more lanes,” he said.
The website Greater Greater Washington, which writes about transit and development issues in the D.C. region, claimed that a study showing how many homes would have to be taken vanished from the Maryland Department of Transportation website but is still available on the Montgomery County Council’s website.