This project will cost billions of dollars in taxpayer money and will affect the lives of Maryland residents and their communities, lands, and water for generations.
The output of the SDEIS’s traffic model is contrary to common sense, logic, and traffic forecasting done by MDOT itself before Maryland suddenly reversed its policy.
TO: Jeanette Mar, Environmental Program Manager Federal Highway Administration, Maryland Division
Jeff Folden, Project Director I-495 and I-270 P-3 Project Office Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration
FROM: Josh Tulkin, Director Sierra Club Maryland Chapter
Nov. 9, 2021
According to the National Environmental Policy Act, the public must be provided an opportunity to review and comment on the likely I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study project impacts.
“Each environmental impact statement shall contain a summary that adequately and accurately summarizes the statement.” 40 C.F.R. § 1502.12.
We have learned that the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for this project was so hastily issued that there are gross errors that need to be corrected, without which the public has an impaired understanding of the project impacts. The only appropriate course of action is to reissue the SDEIS with these significant errors corrected. The SDEIS’ contains up to order-of-magnitude errors in seven different types of environmental impacts. This misinformation is presented in three different links on the SDEIS webpage (Executive Summary, page ES-13). Anyone seeking to comment on the SDEIS would have seen these (in the Executive Summary and in the full SDEIS without appendices), and unless they read far enough in the SDEIS they would likely not have caught the errors. Anyone who utilized the executive summary to formulate comments had incorrect information and may have thereby underestimated impacts in their area(s) of specific concern.
About 3,000 comments were received on the DEIS so these mistakes could impact a large number of public comments or could lead some people not to comment at all because of the false information. For example, the SDEIS Executive Summary wrongly says 48.8 acres of forest canopy will be impacted. The number should be 500.1. The Executive Summary wrongly says 500.1 acres of rare, threatened, and endangered species habitat will be impacted. According to Chapter 4, the number of acres should be 56.4. Instead of 46,553 linear feet of stream being impacted, the Executive Summary wrongly says 1,017,702 would be impacted. Unique and sensitive areas acreage should be 168.5, but in the Executive Summary it is wrongly listed as 44.5. The Executive Summary lists 100-year floodplain impacts as 0 when it should be 48.8 acres. MDOT has made no effort to correct these numbers for the public in the past 40 days.
These numbers urgently require correction and re-release of the documents to the public.
These errors in the scale of the environmental impacts of the project come on top of flaws and errors in the traffic model, which were raised in letters from the Montgomery County Council and U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and U.S. Reps. Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin. Errors in the traffic modeling have wide reaching influence in estimation of project impacts, including toll rate assumptions, financial assumptions, congestion delay, and air quality, greenhouse gas, noise, and environmental justice impacts. These are areas of concern for groups and municipalities, who are now reviewing the SDEIS.
Note, the Mayor and Council of Rockville stated in their letter to you: “Our residents are greatly concerned about this project’s physical and equity impacts on their communities, encroachment on their lands, effects on traffic, and the high tolls.”
The SDEIS currently available for public comment has errors so substantial that the only adequate way to address this is to withdraw the SDEIS for comment, correct the errors, and reissue the SDEIS with the corrections for a new 45-day or more comment period. We look forward to your timely response to this urgent matter.
TO: Stephanie Pollack, Acting Administrator, Federal Highway Administration
FROM: Benjamin Ross, Chair, Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition; Barbara Coufal, Co-Chair, Citizens Against Beltway Expansion; Janet Gallant and Sally Stolz, Coordinators, DontWiden270.org
October 18, 2021
On October 1, FHWA and the Maryland Dept. of Transportation issued a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study. The subject of the SDEIS is a new alternative, not addressed in the DEIS, which adds toll lanes from the George Washington Bridge in Virginia to I-370 in Maryland. MDOT has selected this as the Preferred Alternative, leaving the choice of alternative for the remainder of I-495 undetermined. The SDEIS contains no valid information on how the Preferred Alternative will affect vehicle movement because its traffic model is invalid. The output of the SDEIS’s traffic model is contrary to common sense, logic, and traffic forecasting done by MDOT itself before Maryland suddenly reversed its policy. As a result, the SDEIS provides no basis for determining whether the Preferred Alternative satisfies the project’s Purpose and Need, what the air pollution and noise impacts will be, and whether it will disproportionately harm Environmental Justice populations. We therefore request that you withdraw the SDEIS and instruct MDOT to identify the causes of the traffic model’s failure, develop a valid model, and reissue the SDEIS with an explanation of the reasons for the previous failure and a thorough validation of the new model. A key location where the SDEIS traffic model fails spectacularly is the merge at Wisconsin Avenue where the I-270 east spur meets the Capital Beltway. This is already one of the most congested parts of the Beltway. It is obvious that feeding in three more lanes of traffic (two from the Beltway and one from I-270), without adding capacity at the merge point, will worsen congestion there. This is a crucial difference between the new Preferred Alternative and the build alternatives studied in the DEIS, which all increase capacity at that merge point.
TO: Jeanette Mar, Jeff Folden
FROM: Montgomery County Council: Tom Hucker, president; Gabe Albornoz, vice president; Evan Glass, At-Large; Will Jawando, At-Large; Sidney Katz, District 3; Nancy Navarro, District 4
We are writing to ask for an extension of the comment period on the I-495 & I-270 Managed Lanes Study Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Preparation of an SDEIS was required due to a major change in scope of the project. The SDEIS was issued for public comment on October 1 with a 45-day comment period and a Nov. 1 hearing date. Serious questions have been raised about the validity of the traffic modeling that underpins the SDEIS, which focuses on the new project scope (Phase 1 South). The traffic modeling feeds into toll rate assumptions, financial assumptions, and congestion, air quality, and noise impacts, so errors in the traffic modeling affect determination of impacts across a wide range of types. We need time for our county’s transportation and planning staff to independently analyze the traffic effects of this project. The comment period for the SDEIS has been set at 45 days, which is 78 days shorter than the comment period for the earlier Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). This compressed time period of 45 days does [not] allow our county staff time for meaningful review and comment.
Our constituents, including over 40 stakeholder groups, the City of Rockville, and citizen groups, have already raised concerns and requested a longer comment period. Among the reasons are that the 8,000-page SDEIS cross-references a 19,000-page DEIS and that multiple comment periods (Section 106 and toll rate range setting) for the project have overlapped the current SDEIS comment period. The COVID epidemic and delta variant also present difficulties for review and information sharing with affected groups. Furthermore, the project is highly controversial, may not address congestion, and has known adverse impacts on communities, environment, and nationally and internationally important historic sites. We support our constituents’ reasonable requests for comment period extension, and we need the extension to conduct our own traffic analysis given the questionable validity of the traffic modeling used in the SDEIS. We strongly urge the agencies to extend the comment period until the questions about the validity of the traffic model have been resolved with a minimum of 120 days. We also suggest there be at least two hearing dates after the traffic modeling issue has been resolved.
TO: Jeanette Mar, Jeff Folden
FROM: U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin; U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen; U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin; U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown
We write with respect to the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) on the proposed Managed Lanes I-495 & I-270 Public-Private Partnership (P3) for the Preferred Alternative 9 - Phase 1 South. In May, the preferred alternative was substantially altered, triggering the need for the SDEIS which was issued on October 1. Given the significant changes to the project, the length of the SDEIS and the ongoing difficulties with the COVID-19 epidemic, we urge the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration and the Federal Highway Administration to extend the public comment to at least 90 days and to add an additional day of hearings to ensure that the public has adequate time to review and comment on the SDEIS. The extension should be sufficient for the agencies to address the traffic model issues and give the public the time and opportunity to provide meaningful public review and comment on all aspects of the SDEIS. The National Environmental Policy Act is designed to ensure the discovery and disclosure of the environmental and public health impacts of a project before construction is allowed.
Transparency by agencies and meaningful public participation are essential to the environmental review process. This is a substantial project that would stretch 12 miles through many communities as well as environmentally sensitive and culturally significant areas.
The SDEIS is 288 pages with just over 7,400 pages of technical reports. While lengthy in itself, the document draws on the original DEIS, which is more than 18,000 pages in total. Given the volume of material that the public and local agencies must review, the 45-day comment period is not sufficient to allow for meaningful participation.
As you know, COVID-19 creates significant challenges for many stakeholders. Some stakeholders have additional challenges when accessing the materials. Reviewing materials at local libraries is risky for those who are older and immunocompromised and virtual hearings create differential access for communities with lesser access to internet. To ensure the broadest engagement by the public, we urge the agencies to extend the comment period.
This project will cost billions of dollars in taxpayer money and will affect the lives of Maryland residents and their communities, lands, and water for generations. We therefore request that the agencies extend the public comment period to at least 90 days and add an additional day of hearings later in the process on the Managed Lanes I-495/I-270 P3 SDEIS. We look forward to your response and thank you for your serious attention to this matter.