Press Release | Washington, DC | June 16, 2023

Court Asked to Put Brakes on Beltway Toll Lanes Project

Environmental and historic preservation groups asked a federal court to put the brakes on Maryland’s plan to build new toll lanes along the Beltway and I-270.

The request for summary judgment filed today lays out detailed evidence that the Federal Highway Administration and Maryland Department of Transportation failed to adequately assess and disclose the project’s impacts.

In its haste to try and get this harmful project started, the Hogan administration cut corners and ignored legally required steps. The new administration of Gov. Wes Moore now has the opportunity to conduct the robust and just environmental review that the law requires.

The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of Moses Hall, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) filed the motion for summary judgment today in the ongoing case against the Maryland Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. Northern Virginia Citizens Association, which filed a separate lawsuit challenging the project, joined portions of the brief and asserted its own claims.

The brief notes that expanding these highways into the region’s dense network of communities, parkland, waterways, and historic places would cause significant harm to public health, to natural resources, and to culturally significant historic places that were already impacted by the original Beltway construction in the 1960s.

The agencies “had to first take a close look at the harms the project would cause, and the alternatives to it. And they owed the public a candid assessment of the damage from this multi-billion-dollar project before approving it,” the filing says. “They failed on both counts.”

The filing details a series of violations, including:

  • failing to analyze public health harms from air pollution, including disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities near I-270;
  • withholding information about how the Maryland Department of Transportation predicted the project’s effects on traffic, thwarting informed public participation;
  • failing to determine whether the project would disturb graves in the Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Hall, a historic African-American burial ground adjacent to the Beltway, and misleading the public about impacts to the cemetery; and
  • failing to carefully consider project alternatives that would have avoided or minimized harms to the biodiversity-rich and historic Plummers Island.

“Maryland admits that there might be people buried in the project’s path, and so it has misled the public with its assertions that the project would completely avoid Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Hall,” said Diane Baxter, a board member of Friends of Moses Hall. “Approving the project before determining whether it would desecrate this historic African-American burial ground was wrong. The Morningstar Moses Cemetery must be protected.”

“The project hasn’t changed, and it’s still advancing despite serious flaws and inadequate impact analysis. It would benefit only a few at a very high cost to our air, water, climate, natural and cultural resources, and adjacent neighborhoods,” said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Transportation is the largest source of climate pollution in Maryland. We need 21st century solutions that benefit our communities and the climate.”

“We oppose the misguided plan to expand the Beltway and I-270 and further diminish the site of the Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 Order of Moses Cemetery and Hall,” said Jay Clemens, Interim President & CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Formally established more than 130 years ago, this historic African American settlement and burial ground has already been bisected by highway planners once before, during the initial construction of the Beltway at mid-century. It is irresponsible to consider using taxpayer money to expand upon that injustice in the present day.”

“Maryland residents got a visceral reminder of the full impact of the climate crisis last week as smoke from wildfires made our air hazardous to breathe,” said Pete DeMarco, a lawyer for NRDC. “By bringing more cars onto these highways and creating new traffic bottlenecks, this project would worsen deadly air pollution, especially for nearby environmental justice communities. The state failed to account for the threats this project poses.”

Contact: Mark Drajem, (202) 297-5444, mdrajem@nrdc.org; Elliot Carter, ecarter@savingplaces.org, (301) 873-8520; Josh Tulkin, (301) 244-9405, josh.tulkin@mdsierra.org

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
SavingPlaces.org | @savingplaces

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