By Suzanne Pollak
ROCKVILLE — Several times during a heated briefing on Thursday night between Montgomery County politicians and representatives from the Maryland State Highway Administration, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn emphatically told a packed room that any changes to Interstates 495 and 270 to alleviate congestion will take place within the current right-of-way.
“No, we are not going to take your house,” Rahn said.
Throughout the two-hour meeting at the County Council Building, Rahn continued to echo that message, noting, “We will not take anyone’s home,” and “What I have said to you, and what the Governor (Larry Hogan) has said, we will not be taking homes.”
Still, local politicians continued to press the issue, much to the approval of members of the audience, who are concerned both that the state’s proposals to alleviate traffic on those two major roadways will involve the taking of nearby land and also force drivers to pay exorbitant tolls on express lanes.
No decisions have been made. The state currently is reviewing 15 options, ranging from doing nothing to widening lanes and adding express toll lanes. The state vowed to do the project at no cost to the taxpayer.
Meanwhile, workers have been spotted in Silver Spring, between Dennis Avenue and Colesville Road and at the Sligo Creek Golf Course, conducting archeological studies of the area.
This surveying is preliminary work for any possible lane changes being considered for I-495 and I-270, according to Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
“The archeological investigation is a required part of the National Environmental Policy Act,” he confirmed, adding that two types of field work currently are being conducted.
Some of the work involves studying the natural resources, including wetlands and waters delineations; the other is testing for cultural resources and artifacts.
This work began in April and entails all 55 miles of the road boundaries.
Greg Slater, administrator of the State Highway Administration, added that the surveying work is being done to verify all the existing right-of-way lines.
The Oct. 11 meeting was an annual one. State transportation administrators are required to speak with each county’s representatives in their home county yearly to update them on road and other transportation projects.
Now is the time to make all voices heard, Rahn told the politicians and audience members.
Addressing the state officials, County Council President Hans Riemer noted, “Many of us are skeptical, but we want to see what you come up with” to alleviate traffic congestion on I-495 and I-270.
“The County Council has a previously established vision” of improving those roads “within the right-of-way,” Riemer said.
Council member Sidney Katz agreed: “We are very concerned about someone’s home being taken. We want to underline that many, many times.”
Rahn replied, “I am very confident that we will stay within our existing right-of-way, and we will not take anyone’s home.”
Rahn also explained that because the state has not set aside any money for what is being estimated as a $9-billion project, all costs will be covered by equity investors and bond holders. “We bear no financial risk,” he said.
However, he said, the state may incur initial costs that will be reimbursed eventually.
Rahn also said the express toll lanes, if approved, would be taken only by those who choose to.
State Sen. Cheryl Kagan urged state officials to be more open and keep residents up to date on what is going on. She asked the officials to hold public hearings near the areas most affected by any changes.
“You totally ducked the areas where the impact is going to be felt,” she said of previous meetings. Her comments were met with applause from the audience.
Delegate Marc Korman (Dist. 16) urged the state officials to consider all types of transportation to relieve congestion, including buses and bike paths.
“The goal is to move people, not cars,” he said.