At one park, just off Georgia Avenue near the Forest Glen Metro station, a lone man was shooting baskets on an asphalt basketball court. He was a window washer, he said, with the day off. He’d heard about Hogan’s desire to add toll lanes to I-495 and I-270 to help relieve congestion.
The backyards of nearby houses back up to the Beltway’s towering sound wall. So do the basketball courts. I said that Hogan promised he won’t need to raze any homes to add four lanes — two in each direction. The window washer laughed.
We were both thinking the same thing: It defies the laws of physics to add four lanes in this built-up area of Montgomery County without disturbing houses.
Next I drove to South Four Corners Park, next to the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center. (Looks like the seniors are gonna get it too, I thought to myself.) A toddler was pinballing around the play equipment, from slide to swing to jungle gym, trailed by his father. Mom sat on a park bench.
They had not heard about Hogan’s plan, but agreed that if the Beltway grows, this playground would probably have to be sacrificed. We could hear the thrum of the road and the occasional bark of Jake brakes from 18-wheelers.
I knew that on the far side of the Beltway — inside the Beltway, to use its non-metaphorical meaning — was the Sligo Creek Golf Course. It was once an 18-hole course, but then it was cut in half in 1964 by the then-new Beltway and reduced to nine holes. I think Hogan’s bigger Beltway would turn it into a six-hole course.
Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. The expression that Hogan’s highway honchos keep bandying about is “existing right of way.” That’s what they say any enlarged Beltway will be built within.
“There are many innovative solutions for transportation features in tight spaces around the world, and we want to see them and others here in Maryland,” Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Slater told The Washington Post last summer.
Adding lanes to a road doesn’t sound that innovative to me. It seems like 20th-century thinking, like dial-up in a broadband world.
And a lot of experts think it doesn’t help much anyway. It can reduce congestion in the short term, but as motorists flock to the more-open highway, it just gets clogged again.
Hogan is proposing that the bigger Beltway and 270 have “managed” lanes. That means toll lanes, though what kind isn’t clear. Perhaps it will be the sort of sliding-scale lanes that have made a trip on I-66 cost upward of $40.
I know the Beltway is a mess. I know because I live not far from it. If I stand in my front yard I can hear it — that moan of rubber on pavement — and if I walk a few blocks I can see it.
Often what I see is traffic moving at the pace of a walking man. Crazy. Also crazy: being so dependent on the Beltway in the first place, with poor options if you want to take reliable public transportation, especially from an area without a Metro station. (Or even with one, frankly.)
So I admit I’m not entirely objective about this. Widen the Beltway and all that traffic will be closer to my house. The noise will be louder. The pollution will be worse. The playgrounds will be gone.
But Hogan says he won’t have to widen it. Oh, and I heard Mexico’s going to pay for that wall, too.