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National Transportation Body Asks to Expand 495 Beltway Study Options

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the federal government’s planning agency for the National Capital Region has criticized the current I-495 Beltway expansion plan.

In a report, the agency has asked to expnad options beyond what the MDOT has selected to address the traffic congestion on Beltway.

Earlier MDOT requested the NCPC’s concurrence on the six recommended alternatives for analysis in the EIS. “Concurrence” means that the Commission finds the information available (meaning the six alternatives) to be sufficient to proceed into the EIS analysis, which will be used by NCPC, a cooperating agency, to comply with NEPA obligations for its approval authority under the 1930 Capper-Cramton Act and 1931 Agreement between NCPC, MNCPPC, and Office of the President.

The managed lanes study has identified approximately 20 acres of Capper-Cramton land in Rock Creek, Sligo Creek, and Northwest Branch parks that may be impacted by future Beltway (I-495) expansion. In general, staff finds that among the six alternatives proposed for additional study in the EIS, there are none that appear to meet the purpose and need statement while minimizing/avoiding impacts to Capper Cramton land. Currently, each build alternative includes traffic operation variations with widenings to I-270 and I-495, all of which require use of Capper Cramton land. Therefore, NCPC staff would like MDOT to add one other build alternative to the EIS that may avoid Capper-Cramton parkland adjacent to the Beltway and meet the purpose and need of the study.

The Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) has also asked that this alternative be further studied in the EIS. In addition, NCPC staff requests that MDOT meet with MNCPPC and NCPC staff to explain how the major Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP) transit projects (i.e. Corridor Cities Transitway, Silver Spring Transit Center, etc. that will be built in the future) were included and analyzed in the modeling of the no-build alternative, which MDOT has concluded does not meet the purpose and need. This is also a request of MNCPPC.

The NCPC’s recommendations include:

(a) Scoping Comments Letter (May 2018): NCPC staff recommended a broader Purpose and Need Statement (P&N) to emphasize multimodal connectivity as a primary study component; study measures to capture project impacts; project consistency with local, State, regional, and federal plans/policies; and noted our Commission’s review authorities. In particular, the letter highlighted NCPC’s approval authority over Capper-Cramton park property development, which would be impacted by future capacity improvements along the northern section of the Beltway.

(b) Park Development Review Authorities Letter (October 2018): In follow-up to our scoping comments, staff noted the Commission’s approval authority over Capper-Crampton parkland and that the Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission (MNCPPC) would serve as the applicant for any future park development that requires NCPC approval. NCPC and MNCPPC have an agreement (executed by President Truman) that requires Capper Cramton property to be used for park purposes only. Previously, NCPC has supported projects whereby resulting improvements benefited bicycle, transit, and pedestrian accessibility and stormwater management such as the Purple Line. The Commission also reviews development on National Park Service property through the National Capital Planning Act in an advisory capacity.

(c) Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study Screening Review Letter (March 11, 2018): Staff recommended that MDOT broaden the set of alternatives by adding at least one Transit-focused (BRT or LRT) alternative. Staff also reiterated the 1931 agreement regarding Capper Cramton land and reiterated support for alternatives that minimized/avoided impacts to the parkland.

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