Leaders of metropolitan Washington, D.C.’s regional planning organization have joined the chorus of opposition to Maryland’s $11-billion plan to add express lanes to portions of the I-495 Beltway and I-270.

The state highway agency is in the process of selecting a development partner for the 50-year P3 concession, among three bidding teams, with an announcement expected this month.

"Extremely disappointed” is how Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission Chair Elizabeth Hewlett characterized the group's reaction to  the State Highway Administration’s preferred alternative, announced Jan. 27, which calls for two express toll lanes in each direction on both highways. That approach is one of six design-build options that emerged from the project’s draft environmental impact statement.

The commission also faulted state transportation officials for not minimizing the amount of land needed for the project by directing a portion of the anticipated toll revenue to transit programs.

“Any alternative that does not include substantial support for transit from toll revenue is a non-starter,” said commission Vice-Chair Casey Anderson, adding that the state plan to give buses free use of the completed express lanes “is not going to cut it.”

Preferred Alternative

Deemed as providing the fastest and most reliable travel times, the preferred alternative plan will begin with an expanded Potomac River crossing to enable a seamless connection with Virginia’s Beltway express lanes.

Maryland also promised to augment the new express lanes with improved bicycle and pedestrian connections, regional transit improvements such as expanded bus capacity at the Shady Grove Metrorail station, expanded park-and-ride facilities and environmental enhancements.

Those promises have done little to appease project opponents, who range from residents of neighborhoods already severed by the highways to scientists who worry that even limited construction activity on a relatively isolated Potomac River island will disrupt long-running environmental studies. In November, the U.S. Navy notified state officials that it would not cede any military property under its control for the widening project, including the site of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Maryland counters that it will work with its private development partner and all stakeholders on the “best ways to advance the preliminary design to further avoid and minimize impacts to environmental resources, communities, properties, utilities, and other features."