Beltway Expansion to Consider Neighbors Concerns

Beltway Expansion to Consider Neighbors Concerns

Potomac Master Plan would be amended.

Jan Evans got what she asked for.

“The verbiage is basically word for word what we wanted,” Evans, a representative of Carderock homeowners association, said.

The association had registered concerns about a possible widening of the beltway, which passes through the Carderock community. The verbiage Evans was referring to could amend the Potomac Master Plan and the Master Plan of Highways, among others, to allow for construction of High Occupancy Vehicle, or carpool, lanes on the Beltway from the American Legion Bridge to the I-270 spur.

On Thursday, April 10, the Planning Board voted unanimously to support the new language. It now goes to the county council for final approval. The public had the opportunity to comment in February; no new public testimony was accepted last week.

If the proposal is approved, it would add one carpool lane in each direction along the median, bringing the total to five lanes in each direction. The precise nature of the addition — widening the road or restriping the lanes to make them narrower — would be decided at a later time.

The Carderock Springs community wasn’t the only one with concerns about possible Beltway widening.

Two main issues were raised when the proposal was discussed at a public hearing on Feb. 20 — noise mitigation for the houses along the Beltway and the disposition of a historic church that is only feet from the Beltway’s right-of-way.

Both of those issues were addressed in a new draft of the proposal. A paragraph will be added to the Potomac Master Plan which states that the Maryland State Highway Administration must evaluate the need and feasibility of noise walls or other sound mitigation techniques along the Beltway in conjunction with any expansion.

Initially, Bob Simpson of the county Department of Transportation and Public Works had wanted to remove a phrase stating that the work was to be done in conjunction with the proposed HOV project. “To me it’s an issue of clarity,” Simpson said.

He wanted to make it clear that the noise mitigation could proceed independently of the HOV project.

The issue was clarified, but not by deleting language. The Planning Board approved adding language which will encourage, without requiring, the construction of appropriate sound mitigation techniques, with or without the carpool lanes. “The language doesn’t mean it’s a done deal,” said Commissioner Meredith Wellington.

At the February hearing, members of the, the Gibson Grove AME Zion Church testified that their church would be in jeopardy by the widening, but when Planning Board member Allison Bryant visited the church afterwards, he found that was not the only road problem affecting the church.

While visiting the church on Seven Locks Road right next to the Beltway, Bryant realized how difficult it is for parishioners to get to the church from a parking lot on the other side of the road.

“Seven Locks Road is almost like a major highway,” Bryant said. “As it stands now, you have a historic graveyard you can’t get access to.”

Language is being added which states that in the event the carpool lanes are added, extensive efforts will be made to avoid adverse effects on existing homes and the historic church which abut the highway.

“I’m glad to know that at least they’re thinking about it,” said Judi Bankhead, a parishioner and the wife of the pastor at the church.

The proposed changes will now be forwarded to the county council for approval.