New Letter from Park & Planning Commission:

Federal Law Poses Obstacle to Hogan Toll Lane Plan

Press Release
July 29, 2019
 

Governor Hogan's plan to build toll lanes around the entire Maryland length of the Beltway would violate federal law and cannot go forward without an Act of Congress, a legal analysis by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission suggests. The M-NCPPC adds that private citizens can sue to prevent violation of this law.

Using land in Rock Creek Park to widen the Beltway “will likely violate the Capper-Cramton Act,”  Planning Commission chair Elizabeth Hewlett and vice-chair Casey Anderson wrote in a July 22 letter to the Maryland Dept. of Transportation. The Capper-Cramton Act, passed in 1930, authorized federal grants that were used to buy land for the park. Legal documents going back to 1931 state that land purchased under Capper-Cramton cannot be “in any manner used or developed for other than park purposes.”

The 2½-mile section of the Beltway between Jones Mill Road and Rockville Pike is located within Rock Creek Park. State Highway Administration maps show that the toll lane project would encroach substantially on park land.

MDOT has just agreed to take a preliminary look at an alternative toll lane route that avoids Rock Creek Park. That route would send drivers from Prince George's County up I-95 to the Intercounty Connector and back down I-270 to the Beltway. However, MDOT has not committed to fully analyze this ICC bypass route as an “alternative retained for detailed study” in the project's environmental impact statement.

The economics of the ICC bypass proposal have yet to be examined. Unlike toll lanes on the Beltway, this route will be useless for drivers headed to Bethesda and Silver Spring. Drivers going from Prince George's to Virginia will be sent far out of their way, and the detour will greatly reduce their time savings and willingness to pay. As a result, this proposal will suffer even more severely than the Beltway route from the financial weaknesses that the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition previously has pointed out.

The 13-page M-NCPPC letter raised a string of additional problems with the toll lane plan as well. In particular, it backs up the contention of MTOC and other organizations that MDOT violated the law by splitting the environmental studies of I-270 into two separate parts, north and south of Shady Grove.

“A brief look at the so-called ‘ICC diversion alternative’ as a way to circumvent legal obstacles is not likely to produce the best solution to our mobility crisis. What’s needed is the kind of sustained in-depth collaboration by the state with the affected counties that has been lacking, and we have been demanding, since the Governor announced his plan. There still isn't any rail transit alternative on the table,”  commented MTOC vice-chair Gary Hodge.

“It's time to pull the plug on this entire misbegotten scheme,”  said MTOC chair Ben Ross. “Let's step back and do a comprehensive evaluation of all transportation options for the region. We are confident that an objective study will show our rail transit plan for a connected Maryland will deliver improved mobility to more people at lower cost with more economic benefit and a higher return on investment.”