GREENBELT – Elon Musk’s The Boring Company (TBC) wants to build a high-speed “Loop” tunnel that would connect Washington, D.C. to Baltimore and run directly underneath the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
The City of Greenbelt wants the project to slow down.
After being briefed on the project by city staff during the May 28 council meeting, councilmembers passionately spoke out against the Loop, which would use autonomous electric vehicles to transport passengers between the cities at about 150 mph, making the trip in about 15 minutes. Initially, the project will be able to transport about 1,000 passengers per day, city officials said.
Comments on the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Environmental Assessment and Programmatic Agreement are due June 8 and city council members expressed concern at the speed the project is moving at as well as the company’s lack of willingness to hold public meetings to discuss the project in better detail.
“The whole thing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” said Councilman Rodney Roberts. “I want a lot more information beyond what we’ve got. I want them to come out and tell us what they want to do, to give us details, to have public meetings and so on.”
The council voted to adopt the city staff’s opposition to the project with letters to the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT).
“The City is opposed to the Washington, D.C. to Baltimore Loop Project and strongly believes that to date the project’s review process has progressed too quickly and has lacked adequate public engagement to allow communities to make informed comments,” according to a draft of the letter to be voted on June 3.
The meeting comes about a month after Greenbelt City Councilmembers and residents held a contentious special meeting with a representative of the Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail (BWRR) about the proposed Maglev train, citing concerns about environmental impact, disruptions to local residential areas and increased traffic.
Gov. Larry Hogan has voiced his support of both the Loop and Maglev projects.
Mayor Pro Tem Judith Davis questioned the motivations of company founder Elon Musk.
“This is a very smart and shrewd thing that he’s doing,” Davis said. “He knows that Maglev is moving along, ‘chug, chug, chug,’ and he’s trying to get this project done first so that would probably put the ‘kibosh’ on the Maglev project.”
The project would be completely funded by TBC and would not include any public funding or taxpayer money, although council members pointed out that there was still public investment in the project in terms of discussion and impact.
“It’s basically a personal, private boondoggle that (Elon Musk) can spend his money on and have fun playing with,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, it affects all of us.”
The Loop is similar to the Musk’s proposed Hyperloop, which can transport passengers at speeds in excess of 600 mph but does not use a vacuum inside to eliminate air friction, according to its website.
Community Planner Judith Howerton told the council that in its review, city staff found the community mostly unaware of the project and that the technology is evolving so quickly that some of the images the city had been provided about the project are already outdated.
If the project is approved, construction would take about 15 to 23 months, Howerton said.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” she said.
The tunneling process would create five to eight truckloads of soil, per hour, during the construction phase and would have a significant impact on traffic, said Mayor Emmett Jordan.
“In terms of impact, that seems to be the visible, most significant, tangible impact,” he said.
Councilman Edward Putens called it “the wrong proposal at the wrong time” and said he could not understand why the council was discussing with such little information.
“What are we doing here tonight? I don’t know what we’re doing,” Putens said.
Director of Planning and Community Development Terri Hruby said it was important that the city relays the need for a more public process to TBC.
“As much as we oppose the Maglev project, we saw the engagement that the process afforded communities that were being impacted,” Hruby said.
The project, which calls for a “land exchange” with the National Park Service, also raised questions of the council.
“Once we give them public land to work with, we can’t get it back,” Roberts said. “When it fails, we the public get to deal with the aftermath.”