Should 270 Widening Be A Priority for State Legislators?

Our homes and neighborhoods are still threatened by Governor Hogan’s plan to widen I-270 and I-495. We’re going to keep the pressure on the Governor, but its time to let our representatives in the State Legislature know that we need them to make this issue a priority in January, when the next legislative session begins.

They need to hear from you. There are a lot of issue for Legislators during the 90-day session, and we need to make sure Hogan’s highway project is at the top of their list.

That’s why your voice will matter so much at the public hearing on Wednesday, Nov 14 at 7pm. The entire Montgomery County delegation will be there to hear the public’s reaction to the State’s Transportation plans, including Hogan’s plan for I-270 and I-495.

Here are the details:

When: Wednesday, November 14, 2018, 7PM.

Where: 3rd Floor Hearing Room, Stella Werner Council Office Bldg., 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville, MD 20850. Need a map or directions?

What to do:

  1. Sign up to speak at the hearing. It's the single most important thing you can do to make sure our legislators prioritize this. Tell Legislators to protect our homes and neighborhoods from Governor Hogan’s highway plan. You must sign-up by noon on Nov 14th. Speaking slots are two minutes long. You can sign-up online, or you may call 410-841-3010 or 301-858-3010, or e-mail saha@mlis.state.md.us - before Noon on the 14th!

    Need some help with what to say? Here’s a guide on what to say and helpful points to make:

  2. Show up! Even if you don’t speak, being there shows you care.

  3. Bring a sign! Make your own or print one out. Just make sure its no bigger than a regular letter-size (8.5 x 11 inches.)

MDOT Secretary Rahn Misleads, Dodges in Response to Local Officials

In a letter dated October 19, 2018, Secretary Rahn resorts to misleading characterizations of federal law and dodging responsibility rather than guarantee local officials that Governor Hogan’s plans for I-270 and I-495 won’t require destruction of nearby homes and property.

The letter, a response to a written request from Rockville Mayor and City Council for the Governor to “commit his intentions [that no homes will be torn down] in writing,” does little to address concerns of residents near the highways.

While the Governor and Secretary have clearly become sensitized to concerns about the project’s potential to affect adjacent properties, and while they have both now made verbal promises that no homes will be affected by the project, Rahn’s letter falls short of making any binding commitments to ensure that outcome.

Secretary Rahn’s letter, while striving to sound as though the possibility of taking homes has been ruled out, does not actually contain any binding commitments to make that a certainty. In fact, the letter shrinks back from providing that guarantee. It is also disturbing that letter offers misleading characterizations of the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act in order to justify continuing to examine options which could result in taking homes and property, and to provide an excuse for why the State declines to remove those options from consideration.

Here are DontWiden270.org’s chief concerns with Secretary Rahn’s letter:

1.     Secretary Rahn variously describes MDOT’s intention to avoid affecting adjacent properties as “our approach” and “strategic objectives”; and describes that it is “looking to implement” changes within the existing right-of-way. Yet approaches, objectives and intended implementations change with major projects such as these and the use of such terms in a letter can hardly be construed as a binding commitment.

It is also worth pointing out that MDOT has been saying for some time that minimizing impacts to adjoining properties is a goal – for example, in this RFP for technical support on the project – but has not taken the steps available to ensure no homes are taken, such as ruling the option out in materials for bidders.  

2.     Secretary Rahn’s stated intention to keep the project within the existing rights-of-way and treat sound barriers as immovable boundaries for the project is encouraging. But it isn’t really clear that MDOT is acting in a manner consistent with Secretary Rahn’s assurances. In a presentation to potential bidders on December 13th, 2017, MDOT poses the question “Right-of-way acquisition – retained by MDOT or transferred? Who assumes cost risk?”  Why would MDOT need to think about this if there was no way the project would extend beyond existing rights of way?

3.     Secretary Rahn’s letter cites the National Environmental Policy Action (NEPA) to imply first that federal law requires MDOT to study alternatives which could require taking homes and property, and second that the law prohibits MDOT from removing options from consideration before the process is complete.

Both implications are based on a serious misrepresentation of what NEPA actually requires. First, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA), the NEPA decision-making process on highway projects does not require looking at “all” options as Secretary Rahn suggests, but a range of alternatives to the proposed action the state has put forward. To quote FWHA, the first two principal elements required are:

  • “Assessment of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of a proposed action or project” (such as a proposal to add two to four lanes to a highway); and

  • “Analysis of a range of reasonable alternatives to the proposed project, based on the applicants defined purpose and need for the project.”

Under NEPA, the State must assess the impacts of the proposed project and a range of reasonable alternatives to it. However, NEPA does not require the State to assess the impacts of any specific options the State is not considering (other than the “no build” option in which the state does nothing.) The only reason NEPA requires the State to assess the impacts of widening the highways by two or four lanes is because those are projects the State is considering. If the State were not considering them, it would not be obligated to assess their impacts. 

Furthermore, the Secretary's claim that "We cannot commit to any alternative until we fully and objectively evaluate the reasonable alternatives as it would violate federal NEPA requirements" appears to imply the State cannot provide the guarantee that the City of Rockville and residents are seeking, lest it violate federal law. This is rubbish. While it is true that the State cannot leapfrog the process and commit to a specific plan without completing the process, there is nothing under NEPA to prevent it from removing some options from consideration (other than the "no-build" option.)

In short, NEPA does not prevent the State from committing to reject any proposals which would involve taking homes or property. 

It is somewhat disheartening that the Secretary of Transportation would attempt to hide behind a mischaracterization of a federal law in order to justify refusing to guarantee the I-270 and I-495 project will not require taking of homes, businesses or property, or that MDOT’s understanding of the law is so poor that it doesn’t realize what the law requires and allows. But it confirms our conviction that a binding commitment is still necessary in order to put Rockville residents’ minds at ease on the question of widening the highway.

The sum of these concerns boils down to one simple question: if the Governor and Secretary are so confident that the project will not affect any homes, business or property, why do they continue to refuse to commit to it? The Governor could issue a binding directive to MDOT requiring it to consider only those proposals which have no impact on surround properties. Given that this P3 project is under the authority of the Governor, it is within his purview to simply rule out the possibility of property impacts.

Please join us in urging Governor Hogan to back up his promises by putting them in writing. Sign the petition here.

 

Governor Hogan: Promises Won't Protect Our Homes

An open letter...

The Honorable Governor Larry Hogan
100 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland
21401-1925

Dear Governor Hogan,

Thank you for speaking with me at the Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade about the I-270 and I-495 project. I was very encouraged to hear you say that “Not a single house is ever gonna be taken down” to make room for widening of the highways. I was further encouraged that you repeated the sentiment to news organizations WTOP and www.mymcmedia.org/.  

However, the official documents and statements from your Administration, specifically the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the State Highway Administration (SHA), leave wide open the possibility that private property could be seized and homes paved over.

A slide presented to project bidders during a December 13, 2017 “Industry Forum” highlighted the question of who assumes the cost risks of “Right-of-way acquisition.” MDOT explains this as the process of seizing property, assessing its value, negotiating over compensation and relocation. Clearly from the State’s perspective, “right-of-way” acquisition includes the taking of private property to make room for transportation projects. How do we know that this won't be used to take homes? 

Even the statement issued by SHA on Tuesday, September 4th in response to questions about your “Not one single house is ever gonna be taken down” undercuts your promise. The SHA statement says that the state’s “approach” is to develop options “within the existing right-of-way.” The statement does not rule out property seizures or paving over homes, since it characterizes the state’s position as an “approach” which does not guarantee that’s what will happen. In addition, if the state’s intention is to stay within the right-of-way, why has right-of-way acquisition been a topic it has needed to discuss with bidders, and why is it so important to figure out “who assumes the cost risk?”

Governor Hogan, promises won't protect our homes. If you mean what are saying, make it official: direct MDOT and the SHA to inform bidders that proposals that involve seizing property or tearing down or moving existing homes will not be considered. 

Thank you for your time and attention, and please reply to let me know what you plan to do.

Peter Altman
(street address withheld from web version)
Rockville MD 20850

Governor Hogan Responds to I-270, I-495 Protesters Worried About Homes

A big concern of those living near I-270 and I-495 is the prospect homes and neighborhoods being paved over to make room for Governor Hogan's huge highway project. The Governor proposes adding as many as four lanes to both highways. This has a lot of local residents anxious about the impacts on their homes, neighborhoods and communities, since widening the highways, which run right up against neighborhoods and property lines, would seem to require taking down homes to make room for more lanes. 

And according to the Montgomery County Planning Committee, the State's "Managed Lanes Study Area" will ultimately evaluate properties and resources within approximately 300 feet of the existing I-495 and I-270 highway centerline, which certainly suggests that, in the end, stuff would have to be moved out of the way. 

So protestors from neighborhoods next to and near I-495 and I-270 arranged themselves along the Labor Day Parade routes in Kensington and Gaithersburg MD. I had a chance to ask the Governor about the risk to homes along the highways. Here's the video (apologies for the very out-of-frame cinematography here): 

While we're glad that the Governor told a protester this in the middle of a parade, we'll all feel a lot more secure in our homes' and neighborhoods future if he would issue a formal statement saying so, and making clear to bidders on the project that they will not be able to use eminent domain to seize property. Because as these maps show, there are a lot of homes in the "Study Area". Then we'll all be able to relax. 

Maryland Has Widened I-270 Before. How'd That Work Out?

The proposal to widen I-270 and I-495 to relieve traffic congestion ignores a fundamental law of traffic: wider roads generate their own traffic. This has been demonstrated repeatedly, around the U.S. and around the world, to such a degree that Maryland's transportation planners should be required to explain why their proposals to widen two of the region's most congested roadways will somehow be exempted from this bedrock principle of traffic. 

After all, our transportation planners got a first-hand lesson in this law the last time they widened I-270 to relieve traffic. As the Washington Post reported in 1999, less than eight years after a $200 million project that widened I-270 to up to twelve lanes in some places,

the highway has again been reduced to what one official called "a rolling parking lot." Traffic on some segments already has exceeded the levels projected for 2010.

Robert S. McGarry, Montgomery County's Transportation Director at the time, had pushed hard for the expansion. But he later admitted that "I personally thought [congestion relief] would last much longer than this...I just didn't in my wildest dreams think it would fill up that fast."

Maryland hasn't been alone experiencing this counter-intuitive dynamic, known as "induced demand." In 2008, Texas completed a $2.8 billion project widening I-10 to 23 lanes. Congestion declined for the first few years, but started going up again between 2011 and 2014, according to a study of local traffic data. 

California's $1.6 billion expansion of 410 has hardly had any time to relieve congestion - just a year after completion, average commute time is actually slower than it was before the highway was widened.

There's plenty of research indicating the experiences of these states are the rule, not the exception. In 2014, a pair of economists set out to test the idea that more lanes reduce traffic, by comparing highway capacity and vehicle traffic in 228 metro areas around the U.S. As Vox reported,

They found a one-to-one correlation: the more highway capacity a metro area had, the more miles its vehicles traveled on them. A 10 percent increase in capacity, for instance, meant a 10 percent increase in vehicle miles, on average. 

When they looked at changes in highway capacity and vehicle miles traveled, they found the same one to one effect. Their findings have been replicated in other countries as well. 

A 2015 research report by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation noted that "Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of this approach and consistently show that adding capacity to roadways fails to alleviate congestion for long because it actually increases vehicle miles traveled (VMT)." 

The evidence of our own experience and from around the nation and world make clear that any short-term congestion relief can be expected to be lost within a few years, and traffic will likely get even worse.

The State of Maryland must not be allowed to blind itself to reality, and put the the lives and families and neighborhood communities at risk, in pursuit of what has been clearly shown to be a solution that doesn't work, or that makes the problem worse.