Parks group demands more study from plan to widen I-270, I-495 in Maryland

A group of leaders from around the D.C. region who oversee impacts to parkland are pushing back on proposals put forward by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to widen major highways.

National Capital Planning Commissioners (NCPC) said they need more details on concerns that have not yet been addressed in the state’s study of the project’s impact.

“What we’re hearing is significant frustration from the commission,” said National Capital Planning Commission Vice Chair Thomas Gallas, who represents Maryland.

Commissioners commented on a perceived unwillingness by the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) to take their comments into consideration as they received no answers to questions asked at the last meeting in July.

Hogan’s proposal involves widening Interstates 270 and 495 in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

The commission will give its comments to the Maryland SHA ahead of the conclusion of the public comment period on Nov. 9, which some commissioners questioned, because aspects of the project are set to change and the public won’t be able to weigh-in.

The state is still in the phase where it studies the impact a widening may have on myriad concerns including parkland, hospital access, stormwater runoff and the environment.

The project spanning 48 miles proposes improvements along I-495 from south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Fairfax County, Virginia, to west of MD 5 in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and along I-270 from I-495 to I-370 in Montgomery County, Maryland, including the east and west I-270 spurs.

However, among the six options being considered, a build-out of MD 200 is not included, and there was not a clear answer as to why, after it was suggested at the last hearing of the NCPC.

“[It’s] still just really disappointing and frustrating to hear, ‘That’s not going to work but we’re not going to do the work to say why,'” said D.C. Commissioner Linda Argo. “In terms of saving money, do the work now, so that we may be saving lots of money later. It’s just not an acceptable response.”

Of the many concerns the National Capital Planning Commission has about the project, at-large Commissioner Beth White took issue with the lack of study into whether a historic African American burial ground that sits on Capper-Cramton Park will be impacted.

“That this could potentially impact an African American cemetery makes me reflect on the very long history of impacts on communities of color with all of our transportation projects,” White said.

Commissioner Andrew Trueblood, representing D.C., asked if there would be another draft of the option given how the pandemic has changed commuting trends, possibly for good.

“I don’t know how you could justify a project at this day in time that uses transportation assumptions from a year ago, or five months ago. I don’t know if that’s a review of the purpose and need or how they’ll be taking that into account,” Trueblood said.

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