Governor Hogan: Promises Won't Protect Our Homes

An open letter...

The Honorable Governor Larry Hogan
100 State Circle
Annapolis, Maryland

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  

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.