At its October meeting the board approved Visualize 2045 as the region’s new long-range plan. The approval included four separate actions by the board. First it needed to hear public comments submitted in the official public comment period and the responses to those comments. Second, it had to approve the air quality conformity analysis. Next it needed to approve the plan itself and the six-year transportation improvement program. Other actions at the meeting included approving about $1 million in funding for projects in the District of Columbia through the Transportation Alternatives Program and signing on to two comment letters, one to the EPA and the other to the Maryland Transportation Authority.
During the meeting board members from some Maryland jurisdictions expressed concerns over two Maryland Department of Transportation projects to add managed lanes to I-270 and I-495. These concerns led to debate and the offering of an amendment to the resolution approving the plan. Though the amendment ultimately failed, the debate was an important step in the regional process.
Local jurisdictions raise concerns
Kicking off the public comments at the beginning of the meeting, Patrick Wojahn, mayor of College Park and former TPB Chairman, expressed concerns about the Maryland 270 and 495 projects. He said that MDOT has made promises that the projects will not increase the footprint of the current roadway but that communities in the corridor are unsure whether that is possible. Residents are worried that their homes or land will be taken to create the new lanes. They are also worried that building more lanes would not help relieve congestion in the area but would only make traffic worse.
His comments were again reflected from the board discussion. Board member and former TPB Chairman Bridget Newton offered an amendment to the resolution to formally adopt the plan to ask MDOT to consult with local jurisdictions as it moves its I-270 and I-495 projects forward. “We’re just asking for a closer look at impacts on local communities and multi-modal options,” she said.
Board member Earl Lewis explained that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process that will be conducted as the project moves forward involves consultations with the communities in the corridors. He explained that if this language were added to the resolution it would single out this project. “You might just list every project in the plan,” he said.
MDOT had also previously provided a letter to the TPB explaining its process and how it would consult with communities in the corridor. The letter explained that the projects are currently in the early stages of development and that MDOT will be conducting further study and public outreach as it narrows down its alternatives and works through environmental review.
Board member Lynda Smith said she understood the concerns of the residents in those areas and referenced her experience working with the Virginia Department of Transportation on its I-66 proposal. “We worked through issues with I-66 and we’re still working on it.”
Other board members noted that the TPB was being asked to approve the whole regional plan and not one project. Ron Burns from Frederick County said, “This is not a vote on MDOT, this is a vote on the whole plan.”
TPB vice-chair Martin Nohe agreed. “I can’t support the amendment because I think that we’re trying to use Visualize 2045 to resolve a project-specific issue, and that’s not the purpose of 2045. It’s a long-range visionary document, not a project-specific document,” he said.
The TPB accepted MDOT’s letter explaining the process it would use to consult with the communities in the corridor and the amendment was voted down.
Board member Danielle Glaros then asked if some small changes could be made in the text of the plan document to better explain what is currently known about the I-270 and I-495 managed lanes projects. In a section describing the projects in the financially constrained element and how they support the seven initiatives, the managed lanes planned for I-495 and I-270 were described as lacking express bus service. Glaros suggested removing that language since it is unknown which alternative would be chosen for the project and it is also unknown whether there would be express bus service as a part of the plan. Ultimately the board approved Visualize 2045 as the region’s new long-range transportation plan.
The board also approved the FY 2019-2024 Transportation Improvement Program and the certification document to be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for review.
Here’s what else happened that the October meeting
Besides the main event of approving Visualize 2045, the TPB had other action items on its agenda. It approved about $1 million in Transportation Alternatives Set-aside funding for projects in the District of Columbia. The four projects include the Glen Echo Trolley Trail, Capital Crescent and C&O trail improvements, a Military Road feasibility study, and restoration of the legionnaire statues and interior of Union Station.
The two other action items focused on official letters from the TPB. The first was a comment letter to the EPA written as a joint letter with the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee. The letter asks the EPA to keep its current standards for light duty truck and cars. The new Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) rule would relax emissions standards and the letter asks for the current standards to remain in effect. The TPB approved the letter. Read the letter to the EPA.
The other official letter was drafted in response to TPB Chair Charles Allen asking TPB staff to facilitate a discussion about accommodating people riding bikes and walking across the new Nice Bridge. Based on staff research and briefings from the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) staff developed a letter for the TPB to send as a comment. The board approved sending the letter. Read the letter to the MDTA.
Citizens Advisory Committee report and comment to WMATA
Citizens Advisory Committee Chair Katherine Kortum presented the CAC report. At its October meeting the committee learned about the Visualize 2045 performance analysis and completed an interactive mapping exercise.
In her dual roles as CAC chair and chair of the WMATA Riders Advisory Council, Kortum was asked about the WMATA board’s decision to dissolve the RAC. She commented that the CAC discussed it and asked if the TPB could comment on the importance of public involvement in transportation in the region. Chair Allen asked the board to vote on whether they could ask staff to write a letter to be sent to the WMATA board. The board authorized the letter.
Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth offered some praise for the transit projects being funded and for the extensive outreach associated with Visualize 2045. But he also expressed disappointment in the projects that would entail widening roads in the region. He said that agencies are not doing enough to combat climate change and reduce emissions.
Bill Orleans commented on the WMATA decision to dissolve the RAC. He also spoke against the I-495 and I-270 projects. He also mentioned WMATA’s Bus transportation study and noted that there should be more public participation with the study.