Groups Sue to Halt Beltway Toll Lane Project

Sierra Club’s Maryland Chapter, Friends of Moses Hall, National Trust for Historic Preservation and NRDC file federal lawsuit.

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Public advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit today to halt the Beltway and I-270 toll-lane project because of an insufficient and error-filled environmental review.  

This harmful and unnecessary project would increase air pollution while saddling drivers with millions of dollars in new tolls and failing to address the region’s traffic woes. The lawsuit seeks to stop additional action on the project – including any financial commitments to the toll-lane operator – while the errors in the environmental review are corrected. 

The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, Friends of Moses Hall, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) filed the lawsuit against the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) today in the Southern Division of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.  

The toll-lane project threatens two historic sites of national significance: the Morningstar Moses Cemetery in Cabin John and Plummers Island, the most studied island in the nation. 

“Before going any further with this project, the state must account for and protect the remains in Morningstar Moses Cemetery,” said Diane Baxter, a board member of Friends of Moses Hall. “State officials have acknowledged the damage done to historic Black communities when the Beltway was built in the 1960s, but that hasn’t stopped them from moving to harm our community once again.” 

The cemetery is the burial ground for Morningstar Tabernacle No. 88 of the Ancient United Order of the Sons and Daughters, Brothers and Sisters of Moses. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized the threats to the Morningstar Moses Cemetery and Moses Hall site by the proposed Beltway project by naming it one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.   

“The Morningstar Moses Cemetery literally holds history in its grounds, and it reminds us of the past cumulative injustices that were imposed on African American communities through highway infrastructure projects,” said Paul Edmondson, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The history of this resilient community must be protected, and we hope this lawsuit will help to achieve that.” 

The toll-lane project poses other threats, too.  

“Instead of rushing into a project that will lead to more pollution, more traffic and more profits for outside companies, Maryland should take a step back and reconsider its options,” said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Given the climate crises before us, there are smarter, cleaner ways to improve our transportation system.” 

The lawsuit lays out deficiencies in the state’s environmental review, including: 

  • The Federal Highway Administration and Maryland Department of Transportation ignored a requirement that they consider how additional traffic on the Beltway and 270 would increase soot (PM2.5) levels near the highway; 
  • MDOT is not disclosing details about its claim that the toll lanes will reduce traffic, while the U.S. Department of Transportation said it could not confirm the “plausibility” or “reliability” of MDOT’s traffic findings;
  • MDOT and FHWA acknowledge that people buried in the 130-year-old Morningstar Moses Cemetery could be in the path of the expanded highway, but failed to perform a simple assessment to determine if the project would, in fact, disturb any graves; 
  • New piers for a widened American Legion Bridge would occupy Plummers Island, a site considered to be the most scientifically studied island in North America. This could worsen flooding and erosion on the island. Construction on the undeveloped island and the widened bridge’s shadow would damage research plots and rare plants.  

“Maryland residents are entitled to know the full story about this project before the state guarantees millions of dollars to a private company,” said Pete DeMarco, an attorney at NRDC, who is representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. “The state and federal government must consider the toll-lane project's true costs to health, equity, historic preservation, and the environment.” 

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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