Eastbound Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County by Famartin licensed under Creative Commons.

Maryland is moving forward with plans to expand the Beltway and I-270, and has released a set of design options to choose from. Meanwhile, opposition is getting more organized.

The first of four summer workshops was held at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. Image from Route 1 Reporter.

Last fall, Governor Larry Hogan announced a proposal to add four express toll lanes to the Beltway and I-270. This spring, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) began the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study (which includes all of the Capital Beltway in Maryland and the southern portion of I-270) to examine various forms of widening as well as transit improvements.

A “managed lane” is one that you can only use if you meet a certain criteria, like pay a toll or have enough people in your car. They're different from “general purpose” lanes which are open to anyone in a car.

Local residents say the proposed highway widenings won’t be effective at reducing congestion and would destroy homes and businesses along its path.

See the plan alternatives

MDOT is presently hosting public workshops through its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study process for the proposed changes. As part of these workshops, it has released over a dozen proposed alternatives for the highways.

Most of the alternatives involve road widening, through two involve solely transit and one involves a transportation demand management (TDM) approach. TDM focuses on understanding how people use infrastructure and helping them use it better.

While most of the proposed alternatives involve highway widening, MDOT is also looking at solely transit solutions.

While Hogan specifically proposed adding four new express toll lanes to the highways, MDOT is looking at a range of potential widenings and toll/HOV configurations in the study. Here is a list of all the alternatives proposed.

Alternative 9 most closely resembles the Governor’s proposal and the type of express toll lanes currently seen on the Beltway in Virginia. It's unlikely MDOT will pick the transit alternatives. The agency must look at them because NEPA requires alternatives.

A 2009 I-270 study originally recommended a parallel Bus Rapid Transit option for I-270, which is how the Corridor Cities Transitway BRT project was initiated.

The addition of four toll lanes in the median proposed in this alternative is similar to the configuration of the Beltway in Virginia where high occupancy toll lanes were added in 2012.

Some residents are organizing for options that don't involve widening

As most of the alternatives would involve significant road widening and interchange reconstruction, residents along the highway and transit advocates have begun organizing to push for a transit and TDM solution that doesn’t involve destructive widening.

Citizens Against Beltway Expansion (CABE), which first formed to oppose Governor Bob Ehrlich's 2006 Beltway widening proposal, has reactivated and hosted an organizing meeting last week in Silver Spring. The group is interested in preventing the demolition of homes and protecting sensitive environmental resources along the highways, such as Rock Creek and Northwest Branch parks.

Included in MDOT’s alternatives are potential HOV facilities.

The managed lanes study is evaluating properties and resources within approximately 300 feet of the centerlines of the two highways, although any widening is unlikely to extend that far into adjacent areas.

To better visualize what the impacts may be, the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition has requested that MDOT release any preliminary drawings or maps showing what the various types of widening may look like. Members of the Montgomery County Planning Board have said that they were permitted to view such drawings, but that MDOT declined to make them public when asked.

When the Beltway was constructed in the early 1960s, many neighborhoods had already been constructed along the highway’s proposed alignment, resulting in hundreds of property takings and the splitting of previously continuous neighborhoods. Depending on the alternative selected, many of the remaining homes and businesses in these constrained areas could face demolition.

The South Four Corners neighborhood of Silver Spring in 1957 prior to Beltway construction.

The South Four Corners neighborhood in Silver Spring after Beltway construction.

This fall, MDOT will select some options of the various alternatives proposed now for more detailed study. Per MDOT’s presentation, “Public feedback is critical on the Preliminary Range of Alternatives and in determining the Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study.” Now is the time for the public to voice their opinions on the various alternatives and advocate for the one that they think is best.

MDOT will have two more public workshops this coming week, one at Central High School in Capitol Heights on Tuesday, July 24 and one at Pyle Middle School in Bethesda on Wednesday, July 25.

Sean Emerson is a lifelong resident of the Four Corners area of Silver Spring, where he blogs about his community at Around The Corners. He became interested in planning and transportation issues after reading Just Up the Pike and Greater Greater Washington. He has served on the board of Action Committee for Transit since 2016. His views expressed here are his alone.