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Highway Expansion

Larry Hogan’s Highway Building Binge Threatens to Force Hundreds of People From Their Homes

Widening I-270 in Montgomery County may require the demolition of hundreds of homes, according to a 2009 study. Image: Montgomery County

Uprooting economically vulnerable people to make room for roads isn't a relic of the 1960s -- it's alive and well in Maryland in 2018.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan wants to add lanes to highways all over the state. His massive $9 billion road widening plan would add four tolled lanes to each of Maryland's three most congested highways.

It's a terrible plan that will induce more traffic, pollution, and sprawl. And beyond all that, it's going to force hundreds, maybe thousands, of people from their homes.

Joe Allen at Greater Greater Washington reports that a previous study of widening I-270 in Montgomery County concluded that as many as 365 housing units would have to be demolished. That's just for one 35-mile stretch on one of the three highways that Hogan wants to expand.

Census data shows that people who live near the highway tend to have lower incomes than the county as a whole. The homes at risk are a rarity in this part of Maryland: affordable to people who don't qualify for or can't secure housing subsidies. Allen writes:

These are not state- or federally-subsidized homes, but rather are “market-affordable” homes, something that is increasingly rare in our region. Fewer units in these complexes contributing to maintenance and upkeep may prompt the remaining owners to sell their properties for redevelopment.

Given that there are no affordability protections on these properties, the resulting redevelopments would only have to follow the 15% workforce housing requirement instituted by the City of Gaithersburg. The result would be a loss of a large segment of housing that property records show are valued between $80k - $300k, depending on the size of the unit in a prime location near job centers.

Hogan's plan is in the early phases of environmental review, and it's too soon to say how many people it would displace. His administration claims there's nothing to worry about as it seeks to fast track the process, Allen says.

If that sounds familiar, maybe it's because Hogan is same governor who killed a light rail project that would have benefitted black neighborhoods in Baltimore, claiming that a bus network overhaul would be an adequate substitute. Local residents regard it as a "consolation prize."

We know that highway lanes have to gobble up land to give motorists enough room to travel at high speeds without crashing into each other. Bulldozing a path for more lanes on I-270, I-495, and MD 295 won't be a victimless process.

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