Action Alert: Outer Beltway Bridge Threatens our Drinking Water Supply – UPDATE!

From Elyzabeth Earnley, ANS Member and Volunteer

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UPDATE.  Victory! On December 20, 2017, the regional Transportation Planning Board resoundingly voted in support of five initiatives to address long-term regional transportation needs: The outer beltway, including a new Potomac bridge crossing, was NOT one of the initiatives advanced. The five initiatives that were supported included enhancements to Metrorail and bus transport, planning for growth around existing transportation hubs, installing toll lanes on existing highways and incentivizing teleworking. The new bridge’s omission from the long-term plan makes it significantly less likely to occur. 

Thank you to all members who spoke out or provided resources to oppose this threat to our drinking water. The toll lane initiative does include an expansion of the existing American Legion Bridge over the Potomac, and ANS will remain vigilant, providing additional analysis, suggestions and opportunities to comment, so that threats to our water are minimized

Click here to thank the Board for protecting our drinking water.

Please see below to read the 12/20/17 blog on this important issue.
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Most of our region’s drinking water supply (75%) comes from the Potomac River, serving over six million area residents. The Potomac River is a fragile source for drinking water: it requires treatment to meet water quality standards and has experienced periods of low flow. It’s now at risk from longer periods of drought due to climate change.

On Wednesday, December 20, 2017, the regional Transportation Planning Board will vote on whether to include an additional northern Potomac bridge crossing, part of a proposed “Outer Beltway”, in the long-term plan for addressing regional transportation. This proposal just won’t go away, so we must keep fighting to prevent it. Everyone is encouraged to submit your comments to the Board, but in particular, there is strong support for a new bridge from delegates in Rockville, Fairfax, Gaithersburg, Loudoun and Prince William Counties. 

Ready to Take Action? Click here to be taken to the Transportation Planning Board online comment form.
*Note: Do not be deterred by the note about the “Amendment to the FY 2017 – 2022 TIP”. This is the correct form.

The proposed northern Potomac bridge would create a new and unnecessary risk to this already fragile drinking water supply. Four of the region’s drinking water intakes are downstream from the most frequently proposed northern bridge crossing, and an accident which leads to a major spill of gasoline or other toxic chemicals would directly threaten drinking water for the majority of the region’s residents. If the intakes need to be shut down, we will have only 48 hours of drinking water supply without the Potomac.

Potential Potomac Bridge Crossing, map courtesy of the Piedmont Environmental Council


Here are some talking points to include in your message:

  • A major highway bridge increases the likelihood of a chemical spill that could contaminate our drinking water. In 1997, 1 out of 10 trucks in the US was transporting hazardous material. About half of those carried flammable liquids, such as gasoline, diesel fuel, and fuel oil. Accidents are common, and a study of data from 1991-2000 found that the likelihood of a spill in the event of a crash was 50% higher for hazardous materials than non-hazardous. [1]
  • One tanker truck of hazardous material can contaminate an entire drinking water system. A chemical spill in the amount equivalent to one tanker left 300,000 Charleston WV residents without water for over 10 days in 2014. [2|3]
  • We could have less than a day to react before a spill contaminates municipal water intakes serving nearly 5 million area residents. Water intakes for Fairfax County, the City of Rockville, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, and the District of Columbia are all downstream from the most likely crossing. [4|5|6]
  • A spill requiring cleanup lasting longer than 48 hours could result in most of the Washington Metro Area being without water. We currently have only 24-48 hours of water supply without the Potomac. [7]
  • Climate change could make backup water supplies less reliable during spill events. Droughts are predicted to be more frequent and longer, resulting in backup supplies being used more extensively and potentially running out. [8]

Click here to be taken to the Transportation Planning Board online comment form.
*Note: Do not be deterred by the note about the “Amendment to the FY 2017 – 2022 TIP”. This is the correct form.

Want to know more? Click here to read full comment letter and fact sheet.

Thank you!

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