Cabin John was built around it. Gibson Grove AME Zion Church’s foundation was laid in 1898. But now the church, built on land donated by a freed slave, is threatened by Washington’s growing traffic problem.
Montgomery County has proposed adding HOV, or carpool, lanes to the beltway from the American Legion Bridge to the west spur of I-270.
The church is on Seven Locks Road just north of the beltway. “The beltway came to us,” said Judi Bankhead, wife of the church’s pastor, at last Thursday’s public hearing at Park and Planning.
Bankhead was one of many who came to speak out against the proposed carpool lanes.
According to Rev. Bankhead, the church, which is listed in the master plan as an historic building, is only three feet from the current Beltway right of way. The proposed expansion “may threaten or eliminate our existence as a church.” Bankhead said.
“The state and county do not have much room to work with in terms of avoiding an adverse impact,” said Burton Gray, president of Cabin John Citizens Association.
According to Gray, there is a cemetery just south of the Beltway. “It is difficult to imagine how an expansion of the number of lanes in the Beltway will not adversely impact at least one of these historic locations,” Gray said.
Carpool lanes won’t work, said some who came to testify.
“Overall carpool formation in the region has declined and most carpools these days are family members,” said James Clarke of Action Committee for Transit. “Two people in a car is a date, not a carpool.”
An alternative proposed was to add High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. These lanes allow single drivers to use the lanes by paying a toll, thereby “selling” the unused capacity.
Neighborhood groups which surround the Beltway were concerned with other issues.
Members of Carderock Springs South and Cabin John Citizens Association have been waiting for sound walls to be constructed along the Beltway.
“Will the State and County install sound barriers, and if not, how much will the two additional HOV lanes raise the noise levels,” Gray said.
“Without sound barriers included in the plan, you will be causing damage to our community’s value,” said Jan Evans of Carderock Springs South.
According to Evans, if the plan is approved, homeowners must disclose to potential buyers the chance that the highway will begin inching toward their homes.
For now parishioners are not thinking about what they will do in the event that Washington’s insatiable appetite for more roads swallows their church as well. Park and Planning Commissioner John Robinson asked if they’d considered moving the church, at state expense.
“That’s like asking, should you move Jerusalem?” Judi Bankhead said.