Montgomery Council Wants Park Agency to Resist State Highway Plans

    The Montgomery County Council has asked the agency that controls most parkland in the Washington, D.C., suburbs not to cooperate with the state’s plans to widen the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 unless the Maryland Department of Transportation completes additional reviews of the project.

    The request was made in a letter signed by all nine Council members to Casey Anderson, vice chair of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board. Councilmember Tom Hucker (D) wrote the note and circulated it among his colleagues for their signatures.

    The letter, obtained by Maryland Matters on Thursday, comes amid increasing pushback from elected leaders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and public expressions of concern and opposition to the Hogan administration’s plans.

    “Any decision made by M-NCPPC in connection with the [state’s] Managed Lanes Study must take into account the need to protect our precious natural resources as well as the application of best practices in land use and transportation planning,” the lawmakers write.

    The Council asks that the commission “decline to transfer any parkland to MDOT” until:

    — an “independent” agency reviews the public-private partnership arrangement adopted by the state, “to understand the fiscal risk to our taxpayers”;

    — completion of a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposal to widen the Beltway two lanes in each direction, “to give us a better understanding of the impacts of this proposal on natural resources including parks and stream valleys”; and

    — a go-ahead vote by the County Council.

    The letter notes that the Council urged Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn, in March, to include high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on I-270 and the American Legion Bridge, and to include transit in any state plan.

    The Council also urged MDOT to limit the scope of its work on the Beltway between the I-270 spur and the Prince Georges’ County border to the existing right-of-way, to protect existing homes, businesses and parkland.

    While the letter is not binding on the planning commission, it represents an escalation of the county’s official objections to the governor’s plan, unveiled with great fanfare in 2017, because Montgomery’s charter gives the panel considerable power over land use.

    County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D), a vocal opponent of Hogan’s plan to widen the two roads, made a similar request to the commission on Friday.

    In a wide-ranging interview with Maryland Matters on Wednesday, Rahn accused opponents of the state’s plans of “putting their heads in the sand.” He said local officials don’t have the same appreciation for the need to improve traffic flow on interstate roads that state leaders have.

    “A lot of decisions that have been made [by local officials] over these decades have put us in this situation,” he said, a reference to the frequently clogged roads that commuters find each day.

    “We are attempting to address this in a way that will have the maximum benefit and that’s why we’re looking at this as a system.”

    Roads in the Washington, D.C. region consistently rank among the most congested in the nation.

    On Tuesday, the Prince George’s County Council unanimously approved two resolutions opposing the state’s plans.

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    Bruce DePuyt
    Bruce DePuyt spent more than two decades on local television, including 14 years as host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the D.C. metro region. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County, as well as a reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. Bruce also is the host of the weekly The Bruce DePuyt Podcast.