Citizens Against Beltway Expansion
Feds Approve Toll Lanes Project
But Don’t Have the Last Word
On Thursday, the Federal Highway Administration approved the environmental study for the toll lanes project. Approval was granted despite the fact that the study failed to meet key federal requirements related to transparency, environmental justice and greenhouse gas emissions. While the federal Record of Decision (ROD) is disappointing, it is not the end of the story or the end of our fight. There are challenges ahead for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The Maryland Sierra Club said in a statement, “Sierra Club and partners will be looking carefully at the ROD and considering our legal options.” For those who would like to contribute to Sierra Club and partner efforts, please go to their Maryland Smart Growth Defense Fund to make a donation.
It is also important to note that one of the losing bidders for the project, Capital Express Mobility Partners, has challenged the award of the contract to Transurban. That case will be addressed by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals this fall.
Toll Lanes Would Cause Great Harm
But They Won’t Work
Governor Hogan’s plan to add private toll lanes to I-495 and I-270 would cause substantial harm to our communities, our environment and our wallets. An environmental study conducted by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) shows why this project would be a disaster.
Toll Lanes Won’t Improve Daily Commutes: MDOT’s study shows that if the toll lanes are built, the daily roundtrip commute in the general (non-tolled) lanes between Gaithersburg and the American Legion Bridge would actually be 7.5 minutes longer than if the toll lanes are not built. This makes sense. There must be congestion in general lanes to motivate drivers to pay pricey tolls.
Taxpayer Subsidies: MDOT failed to include an estimate of taxpayer subsidies to Transurban over the term of the contract. MDOT also failed to address who will pay to move water, sewer, gas, electric, cable and other utility lines. Why is MDOT hiding the financial risk to taxpayers?
Inadequate Stormwater Treatment: MDOT plans to treat only 45% of the stormwater runoff. This will pollute local streams, creeks, the Potomac River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
Impact on Global Warming: MDOT did not include an analysis of increased vehicle emissions and the impact they would have on global warming. What is MDOT hiding?
Harm to Parks and Greenspaces: Construction would harm 15 parks. There would be a loss of 500 acres of forest canopy from parkland and other greenspaces.
No Environmental Justice Analysis: MDOT ignored federal requirements to study whether the negative impacts of the toll lanes, such as increased air pollution, would fall more heavily on low-income communities or communities of color.
Failure to Study Alternatives to Toll Lanes: Federal law requires MDOT to study reasonable alternatives to toll lanes. Both the Maryland Transportation Institute and the regional Transportation Planning Board have determined that telework would effectively reduce traffic congestion, but MDOT did not study policies to encourage telework.
Read more about the findings from the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
We Can Stop the Toll Lanes
Public opposition has already forced Governor Hogan to scale back the first phase of the project. In addition, there are many challenges that could stop or delay the project before the first shovel goes into the ground.
The project requires approval by the federal government;
Lawsuits by the MD Sierra Club and others could block it;
A corporation which bid on the project has sued MDOT for awarding it to Transurban;
A construction contract must be approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works;
If there are delays in the project, the 2022 elections could usher in a new governor and comptroller ready to block the toll lanes.
We must keep up the fight and demand that our local, state and federal officials take action to stop the toll lanes.
CABE is pushing back. We’re a coalition of taxpayers and civic associations demanding better, affordable and sustainable transportation options for suburban Maryland.
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