M-NCPPC staff briefs commissioners on major concerns related to project’s potential effects on parkland, environment, and transportation
SILVER SPRING, MD – The governing body of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) received a briefing from M-NCPPC staff on the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration’s (MDOT SHA) I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) during its meeting on Wednesday, July 15. The study was initiated by MDOT SHA as an element of a broader plan to address transportation congestion in the region. The study considers improvements along I-495 (Capital Beltway), as well as along I-270 (Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Highway). The Managed Lanes Study will evaluate a range of alternatives within the specific area of I-495 from the vicinity of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Fairfax County, Virginia to east of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at MD 5, and on I-270 from I-495 to I-370.
The virtual meeting was streamed live and consisted of a presentation to the Planning Board commissioners from Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties on the major concerns related to impacts to M-NCPPC parkland, the environment and transportation issues. The DEIS is part of the continuing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for the project. Staff stressed that M-NCPPC is responsible to holding MDOT SHA to the highest standards to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any impact to parkland resources. In addition, M-NCPPC is a landowner of parkland and other properties that could be impacted by this project.
M-NCPPC commissioners are also concerned about the project’s financial projections.
“The revenue and cost estimates in the draft EIS show that MDOT SHA is going to be hard-pressed to deliver on the commitments made about how this project would be financed and what elements will ultimately be included,” said Casey Anderson, the Commission’s Chair. “In fact, it seems likely that toll revenue will be insufficient to pay for the first phase of highway expansions proposed by the governor, much less a meaningful contribution toward better transit service – and that’s without any accounting for the cost of water and sewer pipe relocations that are not included in the project budget.”
“As the regional planning agency of state government representing two million people who care deeply about the park system we run, our job is to make sure that projects on the drawing board do not impact our critical parkland, sensitive environmental areas or cultural and historic resources in both counties,” said M-NCPPC Vice-Chair and Prince George’s Planning Board Chair Elizabeth Hewlett. “We are not confident that this project is where it needs to be to benefit our communities and protect their critical resources. We remain hopeful that we can work collaboratively with MDOT SHA on next steps.”
Summary of M-NCPPC Major Issues:
Insufficient accounting for the Intercounty Connecter (ICC). MDOT SHA has not provided sufficient analysis of the ICC as a Diversion Alternative to reduce traffic on I-495 between I-95 and I-270. The route should be studied in more detail with various modeling assumptions, including analyses with and without including the I-95 segment south of the ICC to the beltway. As M-NCPPC stated in its comments to the proposed Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study (ARDS), a prior stage of NEPA review, not considering significant environmental impacts as a differentiator between the preliminary screened alternatives and the alternatives retained for detailed study (ARDS) is a flawed approach in direct conflict with the intent of NEPA, particularly since the ICC could provide a means to avoid impact to the critical stream valleys at the Northwest Branch, Sligo Creek, and Rock Creek.
Limits of Disturbance (LOD) modifications will likely be needed. SHA continues to submit that the LOD as drawn is a reasonable approach to identifying all the impacts. M-NCPPC does not agree because the LOD will likely need to expand for the following reasons: (1) LOD does not adequately address likely environmental impacts that could occur outside the LOD and constructability of the highway expansion has not been adequately considered, (2) the inventory of cultural and historic resource impact is incomplete, and (3) many of the access decisions are flawed.
Making parks whole again. Environmental responsibility must expressly address both the Federal Transportation Act Section 4(f) requirements and the Montgomery County Parks Policy for Park, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan 2017. They require that only if avoidance of an impact is deemed unreasonable, minimization of an impact must be explored. Once minimization of an impact has been reasonably exhausted, mitigation at equal or greater natural, cultural or recreational value must be sought and agreed upon. Furthermore, best practices demand that the mitigation directly address the impacts through either replacement or enhancement within a reasonable geographic location to the impacted resource. Accordingly, the DEIS must include clear commitments that MDOT SHA and the private P3 partner apply such avoidance and minimization efforts, and specific parkland mitigation must be at a greater or equal value for each impacted property. This statement applies for all parkland affected by the project.
Adherence to The Capper-Cramton Act. M-NCPPC will need a complete understanding and commitment from MDOT SHA regarding parkland impacts and mitigation before approval from the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) is sought for change in use or ownership of Capper-Cramton parkland. The DEIS merely states: “However, M-NCPPC is the designated applicant to NCPC for any proposed changes to parks funded by the Capper Cramton Act.” That language is insufficient and warrants further explanation to accurately capture the process. The Capper-Cramton Act of 1930 (46 Stat. 482) (Act) was enacted to create a comprehensive regional park, parkway, and playground system by providing federal funding to assist with the acquisition, establishment, and development of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and certain stream valley parks in Virginia and Maryland, including much of the parkland that is within the LOD for highway development. The Act provides strict requirements to be followed for the development and management of any land acquired with such funding (Capper-Cramton Parkland). Those requirements were memorialized in an administrative agreement between the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and M-NCPPC. That agreement prohibits, in whole or in part, conveyance, sale, lease, exchange, or use of the parklands for “other than park purposes; and requires Capper-Cramton lands to be developed in accordance with plans approved by the NCPC.”
Social Equity. The DEIS does not sufficiently address impact to economically challenged populations or social equity as required under NEPA. Since I-495 and I-270 are regional interstate facilities serving as the major freeways and commuter routes within Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, the need to conduct an equity evaluation on the transportation benefits of each of the alternatives is of utmost importance. The DEIS’s conclusory statements that everyone benefits, particularly given the widely held perception that managed lanes are intended solely for those with the ability to pay, is not acceptable. To simply conclude that everyone is benefiting from travel-time savings when the project design does not provide equitable access to the managed lanes creates another layer of inequity. The equity/environmental justice evaluation in the DEIS falls far short of any best-practice equity analysis and does not make any reasonable recommendations to address the inequities such as adding or modifying access locations or developing a toll subsidy program. More detailed information is needed as part of the Environmental Justice evaluation to help determine whether equity mitigation might be necessary with the project, and what that equity mitigation would entail as a factor in the determination of the preferred alternative.
Alternative modes of travel. The DEIS does not meet the stated goal of leveraging other modes of transportation. There is no discussion or analysis of how to bring transit across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge (WWB), which was designed and built to accommodate rail at significant cost to the state of Maryland. There is no indication or commitment that the American Legion Bridge will be designed to structurally accommodate rail, whether now or in the future for this significant bridge replacement project as was done for the WWB, particularly considering the 50-year term proposed for the project.
Non-auto driver mode share (NADMS). NADMS is a primary performance metric and a goal in many Montgomery County master plans, particularly for the urban centers, yet the DEIS does not address how the project will impact those goals or how negative impacts to these goals will be mitigated. While this is a standard metric in many Montgomery County Master Plans, it is often estimated using regional travel demand modeling, so it is certainly within the capabilities of the MDOT SHA team to evaluate. The NADMS workers’ and residents’ goals are often measured separately and have different mode share targets for master/sector plan workers and residents. Without understanding the impact to the NADMS, it will be difficult to establish future transit priorities.
Non-conformance with the Historic Preservation Act. The DEIS does not adequately fulfill the Historic Preservation Act, Section 106 requirements as part of the NEPA process. The Section 106 process, part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, ensures that federal agencies (or agencies with projects using federal funds) take into account the effects of its actions on historic and/or cultural properties. This process must be followed rigorously as part of compliance with NEPA and Section 4(f) mitigation requirements for parkland impacts under federal transportation laws. This means that cultural resources, including but not limited to historic built structures and districts, historic landscapes, archaeological sites, and other sites of cultural significance must be systematically and thoroughly identified and analyzed for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places. FHWA and MDOT SHA have not sufficiently completed the identification phase of Section 106 for certain archaeological sites and historic cemeteries. Additionally, the decision to evaluate critically important cultural landscapes that are foundational to the mission and identity of M-NCPPC as separate and discrete park units as opposed to evaluating them as a regional whole has led to an incomplete understanding of the historical significance of the M-NCPPC Parks’ properties. In some cases, MDOT SHA has opted to delay identification to some future, unspecified date and/or has not made use of fully available research and fieldwork to understand a site’s history, boundaries, and significance. The gaps in the identification process also mean that effects to historic properties cannot be properly gauged.
Inadequate stormwater treatment. The storm water management (SWM) approach presented in the DEIS is insufficient and ignores decades of degradation that the existing highways have inflicted on local land. It is essential that all opportunities to include SWM facilities be evaluated to provide treatment for both new and existing impervious surfaces. Current requirements only mandate 50 percent treatment of reconstructed impervious areas (anything less than exposing bare earth during construction would not require any SWM). MDOT SHA currently estimates that 25 percent of the existing highway surfaces will be reconstructed, meaning the intention is only to treat 12.5 percent of the existing roadway. This is wholly inadequate as the runoff from the existing highways causes continued damage to downstream waterways and infrastructure in local jurisdictions. If MDOT SHA does not take this opportunity to address these issues as part of this project, the onus will fall on local jurisdictions to do so in the future. In order to avoid off-site SWM mitigation and banking, M-NCPPC urges MDOT SHA to further explore the areas immediately surrounding the highways, as well as to investigate innovative techniques to fulfill their stormwater obligations.
Anticipated NEPA and Procurement Schedules:
7/2020: Shortlist from RFQ for Phase 1 P3 Agreement. Phase I is from and including the American Legion Bridge north on I-495 and up the western spur of I-270 to I-370, then combining that segment with the northern extension of I-270 from I-370 north to I-70 in Frederick.
Late August/Early September 2020: MDOT SHA holds public hearings – four virtual and two in-person.
9/2020: Notice of Intent to begin NEPA process for 270 North portion of the project.
10/8/2020: Close of public comment period for I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study.
5/2021: Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) for Managed Lanes Study.
5/2021: Final selection of Private Partner for Phase 1.
For More Information The public and other interested parties are encouraged to comment online at the study’s website (https://495-270-p3.com), by email at 495-270-P3@sha.state.md.us or hard copy during the public workshops held by the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration. Hard copy comments can also be mailed to the I-495 and I-270 P3 Project Office at the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration, 707 North Calvert Street, Mail Stop P-601, Baltimore, MD 21202.
About the I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study
The I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study was initiated by MDOT along I-495 (Capital Beltway), as well as along I-270 (Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Highway). Managed lanes consist of a highway facility or set of lanes where operating strategies are used to control the number of vehicles using the lanes at any given time. Any selected build alternative is likely to have significant impacts on parkland and the associated facilities, programs and natural and cultural resources in both Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties as well as on communities in those counties. Learn more about the MDOT SHA Managed Lanes Study.
M-NCPPC’s project coordinators for the Managed Lanes Study are Carol Rubin for Montgomery County and Debra Borden for Prince George’s County.
About The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) is a bi-county agency empowered by the State of Maryland in 1927 to acquire, develop, maintain, and administer a regional system of parks within Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, and to provide land use planning for the physical development of Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. In addition, the agency gained responsibility for the public recreation program in Prince George’s County in 1970.
The governing body of M-NCPPC consists of 10 members, five appointed by Montgomery County and five by Prince George’s County. The commission coordinates and acts on matters of interest to both counties, and meets at least once a month. The members of the commission from each county serve on separate county planning boards to facilitate, review and administer the matters affecting their respective counties.