The Maryland State Highway Administration and the Federal Highway Administration have agreed to extend the public comment period for a hotly-contested road widening project by 30 days.
The extension was sought to give county planners, other officials and the public more time to review a lengthy report on the Hogan administration’s plan to add four lanes to portions of the Capital Beltway (I-495) and Interstate 270.
Originally, the agencies offered 90 days to review the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, an 18,000-page document that was released on July 10.
The extension, sought by Montgomery County officials and the county’s Annapolis delegation, and supported by environmental groups and members of Congress, means the public will have until Nov. 9 to weigh in.
“Throughout the I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study we’ve been committed to work in collaboration with community members and stakeholders,” said Transportation Secretary Greg Slater in statement on Thursday evening.
“Extending the comment period to 120 days ensures the public has ample opportunity to review and provide feedback on the DEIS. The extension also supports our number one priority during the COVID-19 emergency: the health and safety of the public and our team.”
Requests to extend the public comment period intensified after Maryland Matters and other news organizations reported that the original upload of the voluminous document was incomplete. Maryland Department of Transportation officials discovered the glitch the following day and added the missing sections.
Opponents of the proposal to add privately-financed “Express Toll Lanes” to the frequently-congested roads complained that the already difficult task of reviewing the dense report was complicated by the state’s failure to disclose that sections of the report weren’t online the day MDOT said the document was ready for review.
“We’re glad that the state took this step to make sure there is a reasonable opportunity to go through the DEIS and understand its implications,” said Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson.
“We would prefer to work through our questions and concerns in as collaborative a way as possible, and this is certainly a helpful step in that direction.”
SHA and FHWA have conducted three virtual public hearings on the proposal. Three more remain. An online hearing will be held on Sept. 3. In-person hearings — one in Largo, one in Rockville — will be held on Sept 1 and 10, respectively.