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Carpool Lanes Coming?

Will the Beltway get fatter?

Less than one year after the Potomac Master Plan was approved, Park and Planning initiated the process to amend it and the Master Plans of Highways to widen the Beltway.

The amendment, if ultimately approved by the Planning Board and then the Council, would include carpool — or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) — lanes on the Beltway between the American Legion Bridge and the I-270 West Spur. Two carpool lanes — one in each direction adjacent to the median — would connect the existing HOV lanes on I-270 with proposed HOV lanes on the Virginia segments of the Beltway.

THIS THURSDAY, Dec. 12, the Planning Board will discuss whether to approve the Staff Draft of the Master of Highways Amendment.

The HOV Master Plan Amendment documents the need for high-occupancy vehicle lanes on the Beltway between the American Legion Bridge and the I-270 West Spur, consistent with priorities established by the Planning Board and endorsed by the County Council as part of the recent Transportation Policy Report recommendations.

The State Highway Administration's current Beltway study is analyzing HOV lanes and interchange improvements for the Beltway. It is expected to lead to an Environmental Impact Statement for federal review and approval.

THE APPROVED AND ADOPTED 2002 Potomac Subregion Master Plan specifies a minimum right-of-way width of 300 feet for the Beltway with eight travel lanes.

It appears that there is generally enough right-of-way along the alignment to include the HOV lanes. However, some additional right-of-way, primarily at the north and south ends of the project, (near I-270 to the north and MacArthur Boulevard on the south) may be needed, according to planning staff.

Walls are presently under construction on the Beltway to mitigate the effects of traffic noise on communities north of River Road. The noise walls do not follow the edge of the highway right-of-way but are located in such a way to maintain as much vegetation as possible and to take advantage of the topography.

THE COUNTY COUNCIL asked the Planning Board to include the "Purple Line" project in the amendments as well. Because there is not enough information to recommend an alignment or station locations for the Purple Line by the time amendments for the HOV lanes were ready, separate amendments related to the Purple Line are expected to be prepared later in 2003.

The public will have the opportunity to voice its opinion on the staff draft at public hearings and through written testimony once the Planning Board establishes a hearing date.