In Committee Hearing, Secretary Rahn Refuses to Guarantee Highway Projects Won’t Take Homes, Stay within Existing Right-of-Way
On Tuesday, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn undermined months of his and Governor Hogan’s promises that the Governor’s plans for I-270 and I-495 wouldn’t require paving over any homes.
During a joint hearing of the Appropriations and the Environment & Transportation Committees, Rahn allowed for the possibility that the project could require going beyond existing rights-of-way (ROW.) Furthermore, he refused to commit that no homes would be taken, instead saying that MDOT plans to emphasize that desire with prospective bidders for the project.
Rahn’s new statements stand in contrast to what he told Montgomery County elected officials during his Department’s “Road Show” in Rockville in October. As MyMCMedia reported, Rahn told elected representatives from Montgomery County that “The improvements can be done within existing right-of-way without having to take anyone’s home,” Rahn said. “The answer is no, we’re not going to take your home.”
In fact, Rahn had to stress this point under questioning by Senator Cheryl Kagan, who pressed him on the issue. Bethesda Magazine captured the exchange:
“But state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Democrat who represents Rockville, wasn’t convinced, when a few minutes later, Rahn said there were “no plans” to raze any homes.
“Mr. secretary, I’m a word nerd. I just want to clarify something. Earlier you said ‘we will not.’ Just now you said ‘we have no plans.’ Plans can change,” she said.
Rahn than reassured Kagan definitively that no homes would be taken.”
The Hogan administration’s promises were first recorded and shared publicly Labor Day, when Gov Hogan made that promise to me during the Gaithersburg Labor Day parade and repeated it to news outlets WTOP and MyMCMedia shortly afterward.
Yet, during a legislative hearing in Annapolis, Secretary Rahn backpedaled and said something quite different to the legislators in the hearing. When asked about staying within existing right-of-way and impacts on homes, Rahn said MDOT “can learn from the private sector what they are viewing as how they will address the very difficult task of placing roads and bridges within this corridor and not having to take homes, not going beyond existing Right-of-Way unless it is absolutely positively necessary.” (Video of the hearing is posted here; Secretary Rahn’s comment occurs at 1:09:40.)
Well that clears things up. Secretary Rahn and the Governor have actually been promising to the public and elected officials that they’ll only take away homes if it is absolutely positively necessary? Based on the judgment of a private contractor who has no accountability to voters and residents? Even his use of the powerful double adverb doesn’t provide all that much assurance.
That wasn’t all. In response to questions about rights-of-way, eminent domain and homes from Delegate Marvin Holmes (District 23B, Prince George’s County), Secretary Rahn would only go so far as to say “Our direction to the P3 proposers will be that we stay within existing right of way would be #1 preferred; and #2 if we were to have to go [beyond the right of way] that no homes will be taken. So we’re being very specific that we don’t want to impact homes. I don’t believe we’re going to have to use eminent domain.” (Video of the hearing is posted here; Secretary Rahn’s comment occurs at 1:27:45.)
That doesn’t sound like much of a promise, or a guarantee. Clearly, while Hogan and Rahn have been telling some elected officials and citizens that they will definitely stay within existing rights-of-way and no homes will be taken, that isn’t what they are telling P3 proposers (in fact, by saying the state will direct P3 proposers, Rahn makes it sound as though MDOT hasn’t yet told prospective bidders about his ROW and no homes taken pledges.) And obviously not what they tell legislators when in the formal setting of a legislative hearing.
HB-91 would require the State to finish the formal process of analyzing the options for a project before moving ahead to solicit bids. If adopted, it would mean that lawmakers would have much more information about projects they are supposed to review before bids are solicited and contracts written - such as what the project is, what it would cost, how it would affect surrounding neighborhoods, the environment, and various risks and benefits to the state.
Citizens Against Beltway Expansion (CABE), the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition (MTOC) the Southern Alliance for Rapid Transit (SMRT) and MD Sierra Club testified in support of HB-91. MTOC worked in an endorsement of HB-102 which would give counties a say over whether toll roads can be built within their limits.
DontWiden270.org encourages all concerned citizens to contact their Maryland Legislators and urge their support for HB-91 and other bills such as HB-102 which would both protect homeowners from the Governor’s current highway plans and require a more thorough and thoughtful process before privately-funded projects can leap ahead without sufficient public review and input. We’ve got a running list of such bills here; and you can find out who your Representatives are here.