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As The Beltway Expands, So Does Opposition

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Capital Beltway HOT lane under construction

By Michael Dinkel

SILVER SPRING, Md.– Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to expand the beltway is  sparking controversy over its effect on local residents. 

According to the P3 Program website, a Marylander’s average time spent commuting to work is 32.7 minutes, second only to New York. 

The P3 Program is a public-private partnership that will result in the private sector designing, building, maintaining and paying for the additions to the beltway. 

This P3 Plan will involve added toll lanes by the private sector. 

This expansion will affect many neighborhoods right next to the beltway. 

Michelle Gibbs, who lives a few blocks away from the sound barrier wall of I-495 in Silver Spring Md. is worried about the effects on her neighborhood. 

The property value of the houses near the sound barrier will go down as it is moved closer and the noise of the beltway is increased. 

“I’ve been a lot more conscious of how much noise it is and it really is the traffic on the beltway, and I keep thinking about what if you multiply that by another two to four lanes of traffic.” 

Along with the increased level of noise, she is concerned about the local YMCA.

“I read something that they were going to work with the developers to make sure the YMCA stays but that’s not a guarantee and I think it would be devastating to the neighborhood to lose it because I think it’s part of the attraction about being here is being able to walk to the YMCA.”

Additional lanes would go through parts of the YMCA and would result in the relocation of some facilities. 

Deputy Director of the Montgomery County Planning Department Robert Kronenberg is worried that the current proposal “Would take away quite a few acres of parkland that is currently used in Sligo Creek and Northwest Branch and part of Rockcreek Parkway and would have some real detrimental impacts we think to the water quality and to the enjoyment of the public.”

Not only does the expansion negatively affect neighborhoods, but Gibbs thinks it won’t reduce traffic. 

“They’re going to build them just like 270, and now 270 is still gridlocked and everybody said 270 was the answer to traffic going north to frederick and it’s not because they keep building more and its impact to the neighborhoods just continues to grow,” referring to the expansion of I-270 in the 1980s. 

Opponents who worry that the expansion won’t be an effective solution cite the idea that if a road is expanded, it will make the commute of surrounding areas quicker and will add to the value of the area, resulting in more traffic as more people come to the area and resulting in the same situation as before. 

Kronenberg states “we know that traffic congestion is bad, but just widening it doesn’t necessarily fix the current problem because at some point it comes down to a bottleneck.” 

Besides the problems the expansion will cause to communities and the question being raised whether it will really reduce traffic, there might be an ethical problem too.

“I’m against Lexus Lanes. I just think that if you have more money you get to travel faster and spending $30 to get somewhere I don’t think it sends a good message. If you need to build more roads they should be open to everyone.”

Gibbs refers to Lexus Lanes, which are lanes that have a really high toll and are called Lexus Lanes because only those who drive a Lexus can afford them. 

“The parks department is probably the biggest owner of what they call the managed lane study and that’s just essentially it’s the widening of i-495 and 270 and since we as the public want to keep our lands available to the public we have an interest in what happens to it,” Kronenberg brings up. Should the government give away public lands to the private sector?

Research is currently being done about the impact of the plan in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement which will be released in winter 2020. 

More information about the P3 Plan can be found here. .

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