GREENBELT – In a contentious special meeting on April 25, a representative from the Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) updated the Greenbelt City Council and Greenbelt residents on the proposed maglev train that would run from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore.
In the first update to the city council in more than a year, David Henley, the project director for BWRR, said the project is currently “in the tail-end” of the environmental impact statement process, with two potential alignments being considered, as well as an option not to proceed with the project at all.
The company’s preferred option, Henley said, would travel along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway heading east. This option would require less tunneling, with about nine miles of the proposed 36-mile tract being elevated, or viaduct.
The route would go through federal land in and around the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the National Security Agency and Ft. Meade.
“We have to thread that needle very finely and work with them to make sure that everything is either avoided or (mitigated),” Henley said.
The option that would hug the westbound side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway would require more tunneling and be more impactful to residential areas, Henley said.
Henley said the environmental impact statement process will be sent out to various agencies later this summer, and from there those agencies will have a few months to review and make recommendations.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will the send out to the general public this fall, Henley said, and five public hearings will be held sometime in early November, including one or two in Prince George’s County, he said.
The FRA will issue a record of decision in mid-2020, and construction could start in 2021, Henley said.
The meeting grew somewhat combative when the city council questioned Henley about the project. Councilwoman Leta Mach asked Henley whether the NSA had expressed any concerns with the project’s proximity to the headquarters.
“To me, it sounds like a very dangerous project for our national security,” Mach said.
When Henley told her that the agency didn’t voice any concerns regarding the electromagnetic implications of the proposed train, Mach replied that she did not believe him.
“Well, then don’t ask me,” Henley said.
As Mach began to speak again, Henley interrupted her.
“Next question,” Henley said, in a tone that drew the ire of Mayor Pro Tem Judith Davis.
“We don’t need snideness,” she said to Henley.
Henley said state-of-the-art tunnel boring machines would tunnel between 80 and 120 feet deep below the surface. Henley said both the drilling and trains, once operational, will not create any noticeable sound or vibration.
“You will not hear it, even when it’s digging, it’s that far down below, so that’s an issue that can be dispelled,” Henley said. “When it’s in operation, you definitely will not hear it because there are no moving parts.”
Councilman Rodney Roberts took exception with Henley’s assertion, calling the 80-foot deep tunnel “way too shallow” and adding that he has heard several complaints in regard to the D.C. Clean Rivers Project, which Henley cited as an example of using similar tunneling.
“You seem to think that that’s a big distance, but really is not much distance at all,” Roberts said. “I don’t understand how people will not be able to hear that.”
Henley noted that the company would use proactive measuring tools, such as sensors that will monitor the sound and vibration of the tunneling.
In total, Henley said, the machines would tunnel about 40 feet per day, and the total project will result in about 15 million cubic yards of excavated earth. He added that about 200 truckloads of dirt would be excavated daily, prompting concerns of the city council in terms of routing and traffic.
About a dozen Greenbelt residents spoke out during the meeting, mostly against the maglev, voicing concerns about the route, noise, vibration and the overall necessity of the project.
Brian Almquist of the Greenbelt Advocates for Environmental and Social Justice spoke in opposition.
“In our opinion, (the maglev) is completely unnecessary,” Almquist said. “It’s a duplicate of service, and it serves no purpose, it is not a green technology – a matter of fact I believe the technology’s being emphasized to get people to overlook the impact to our communities.”
Bill Manico, of Greenwood Village, expressed concerns about the tunneling as there are already concerns about foundations and underwater springs in his area. He grew frustrated when Henley could not provide him a detailed map of the route of the underground tunnel.
“It seems evasive to me,” Manico said, walking away from the microphone.