Anne Fox just wants to stay in her Chevy Chase home of 46 years, but that may not be possible if the State Highway Administration’s plan to widen Interstate 495 comes to fruition.
Fox lives on Kensington Parkway in North Chevy Chase Village. She can see the Capital Beltway from her yard, and if she doesn’t keep her bedroom windows closed, she can hear the traffic.
She loves her house, for which she paid $39,500, and the memories she made there. “This is a very nice neighborhood. Everybody is very friendly,” she said.
The plans of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to ease the area’s traffic woes along Interstate 495 and Interstate 270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway involve spending $9 billion in a public-private partnership. Of the 15 proposals put forth by the State Highway Administration, only some involve using eminent domain on nearby houses. One of the proposals involves doing nothing, but several include adding four more lanes to the already major arteries.
The Rockville City Council, in a letter signed by Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, urged the state “not to widen the physical footprint of I-270” or do anything that would result in eminent domain of private property.
In the most extreme lane plan, a 16-lane stretch of I-270 would pass through Rockville, the City Council noted. It also is concerned that more than 200 homes may be destroyed to make way for the enlarged roadway.
It’s not only the Rockville City Council that is upset.
In Silver Spring, Democratic activist Betsy Devlin-Foltz hopes to stop the proposed widening and is sending out alerts encouraging people to attend meetings and express their opposition.
When the state shared its 15 alternatives with the Montgomery County Planning Board (and it’s actually more, as some of those 15 plans include a, b and c choices), it noted that it intended to involve little or no taxpayer money and that the state would own the roads.
In addition to widening lanes, other alternatives include adding bus lanes, changing the direction of lanes at peak flow hours, and specially-priced lanes.
The officials also explained that any decision would involve the needs of Homeland Security and the business community’s ability to move products in a timely manner. It also would include financial and environmental reviews.
During the question-and-answer period, a few members of the County Planning Board appeared upset that they were not provided with the proposed widths of any new roadway and wondered how they could determine what land would be taken.
Planning Board members were told that it was too soon for that information.
Brad German, co-chair of Citizens Against Beltway Expansion (CABE), called that “stonewalling.”
His organization is against expanding the two main roads. “We don’t think it’s going to resolve the issue” of traffic congestion, German said.
Also, he said, “We are not confident in the claims that it will pay for itself.”
“Toll revenues fall short, and ultimately the taxpayers” must pay the bills, German said of similar projects.
CABE opposes “requiring ongoing taxpayer subsidies” and taking land that “radically impacts neighbors, houses and parks,” German said.
German would rather see a mixed variety of uses that emphasizes public transportation.
“I don’t think there is a magic wand” to enable workers to get to their jobs, said the Bethesda resident.
Ben Ross, chair of Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, said he would not want to duplicate what is happening in Virginia, where some rush-hour commuters on Route 66 have on occasion paid up to $40 in tolls during one day.
Widening I-495 and I-270 “is a tremendous waste of money,” he said. “Lanes will be too expensive to use. The money would be better spent on transit.” Ross prefers “a statewide railway plan.”
Ross, who is active with CABE, believes the state is pushing the widening, at least in part, to benefit highway contractors rather than those who need to get to work.
“The supposed business model doesn’t work. It won’t get built unless there are billions of dollars in state subsidies,” said Ross.
About a year ago, County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council wrote to the Maryland Department of Transportation, suggesting improvements to many of the area’s roads. It called for such improvements to I-495 and I-270 as ramp metering, use of the shoulder during peak hours, and reversible, high-occupancy toll lanes.
Meanwhile, Fox is doing what she can to keep her Chevy Chase home. She and her neighbors have written letters to every member of the Montgomery County Council and many state and Prince George’s County officials.
“The idea that they would build four new lanes, it’s just so against everything we should be doing right now,” she said. “I don’t think it’s progress.”