Federal and state officials overseeing a controversial highway project in Montgomery County extended a public comment period after an environment group flagged multiple errors in a legally mandated study.
Instead of ending on Nov. 15, the public will have until Nov. 30 to submit comments on the project.
The errors were contained in a revised draft environmental impact statement on the Hogan administration’s plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 270 and the Capital Beltway (I-495) and to rebuild the American Legion Bridge.
They were flagged by the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, vocal opponents of the project. In a letter to top officials at the Federal Highway Administration and the Maryland State Highway Administration, the group catalogued several instances in which numbers in one section of the document were inconsistent with numbers appearing elsewhere.
“For example, the [report’s] Executive Summary wrongly says 48.8 acres of forest canopy will be impacted. The number should be 500.1,” the group wrote. “MDOT has made no effort to correct these numbers for the public in the last 40 days.”
The Sierra Club said the only appropriate response would be to correct and re-release the report and to re-start the 45-day comment period. Officials added 15 days instead.
The extension was announced on Friday afternoon in a brief statement from Jeffrey T. Folden, the deputy director of the recently renamed “Op Lanes P3 Program.” He made no mention of the errors in the report or why the comment period was being extended.
In a statement, project spokesman Terry Owens said the decision “was based on stakeholder input and requests both for and against an extension.”
“Public involvement is a continuous process,” he added. “This extension is another example of how during the last three and a half years MDOT SHA and FHWA have extensively engaged with and incorporated feedback from the public, stakeholders and agencies into the Managed Lanes Study.”
Josh Tulkin, the director of the Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, said he assumed the group’s discovery of the errors led to the extension of the comment period. “The timing is conspicuous,” he said. Noting that the extension came less than 24 hours from the release of their letter, “it’s hard not to see a connection.”