Maryland Shows Divided Face in Bridge Vote

Virginians are used to hearing that a new bridge over the Potomac River could never happen because Maryland is against it, but Marylanders showed cracks in that wall in a vote at the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board yesterday.

Representatives from three Maryland cities—Gaithersburg, Rockville, and Takoma Park—voted to keep plans to further study a new bridge.

The Transportation Planning Board’s Long Range Planning Board had recommended 10 topics for further study, such as regional bus rapid transit, extending Metrorail, and express toll lanes. Among those is an additional bridge crossing.

Members of the Maryland delegation attempted to strike that topic from that proposal, but fell just shy, 12-17.

“It’s obviously worth study,” said Gaithersburg City Council member Neil Harris, one of the three dissenting votes. “There are many challenges—the route would be a challenge, and the issues of land preservation, land use, expense, all that—but that wasn’t part of the charter here. The charter here was to think outside the box.”

Harris is also a member of TPB’s Long Range Planning Board, which he said found part of the region’s transportation problem comes from parochialism among jurisdictions in the region. He also commutes from Gaithersburg to Reston for work—a commute which he describes as “probably 10 miles as the crow flies, but unfortunately I’m not a crow.”

“We did not see a lot—or any significant amount— of regional planning going on, and that’s our job,” Harris said. “So we took it upon ourselves to say, let’s form a taskforce and try to form six to 12 projects … that might move the bar. So the bridge was viewed as a regional project, not a parochial project.”

The three Maryland votes were enough to sway the result. If all three had voted to strike the bridge from the proposal, they would have succeeded by one vote.

“The people over there are shifting, and because the people are shifting, the politicians are starting to come over, especially the ones that are newly elected, versus entrenched,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run), Loudoun’s representative on the Transportation Planning Board. “To be honest with you, I wouldn’t be wasting time on something that the Montgomery County Council is totally against if I didn’t think there’s a real possibility to get it into our long-term planning.”

Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) speaks at a ribbon cutting on Innovation Avenue. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

The Transportation Planning Board includes representation from Virginia, Maryland, and DC. It is only the latest regional body to take another look at the idea of a new bridge—an idea that was first proposed in the 1950s. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which funnels hundreds of millions of dollars into transportation projects every year, recently identified an “Outer Potomac River Crossing” at Rt. 28 on its long-range wish list, and Loudoun County supervisors have voted unanimously to add a new bridge to the Countywide Transportation Plan.

The Montgomery County Council—in the other county where a new bridge is most likely to be built—reaffirmed its longstanding and unanimous opposition to a new bridge the day before the Transportation Planning Board’s vote.

The majority of the Maryland delegation on the Transportation Planning Board, nine members, also voted against studying a bridge.

Harris said the thing he hears most often from his constituents when he asks how to fix traffic is to build a new bridge. On Friday afternoons, he said, it can take him two hours to get home from Reston.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” Harris said. “We just can’t go on the way we’re going on.”

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene

6 thoughts on “Maryland Shows Divided Face in Bridge Vote

  • 2017-07-20 at 6:05 pm
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    The easy solution is to set up EZ Pass an easy pass lane, southbound, using the exisiting and only lane from 0400 – 0900 Monday thru Friday. The toll should be $15.00. The proceeds go directly to road maintenance and the vehicle safety inspections. Safety inspections are necessary because the majoity of users during those hours are from out of state and are not required to have any safety insppection except at initial registration.

    Think that would get some attention!

  • 2017-07-20 at 7:08 pm
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    No one remembers Meyers or Buona suggesting this will relieve congestion instead it will add up to 10,000 car a hour. Study all you want but this turning from Leesburg to Herndon into LA East. Buona referred to the bridge as a economic engine on steroids, now where do you think the workers will live. Will they drive cars? Will Marylanders pass through? If you live as a Potomac River resident in Virginia or Maryland the only open space left after a bridge is built will be Trump’s golf course. See what it cost to get on the course.

  • 2017-07-20 at 7:17 pm
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    The bridge, a long sought-after component of the Outer Beltway, is a bad idea. Here are just some of the reasons:

    1. Limited dollars means we can’t build everything. We have to pick. There are limited transportation funds and an endless stream of traffic problems that need to be addressed. To best serve the region’s residents and employers, projects should be scored and prioritized based on congestion relief, mobility improvement and community impacts.

    In Loudoun, here are several options for projects that would help commuters by increasing access to transit:
    • Improve the Waxpool Rd/Loudoun County Pkwy intersection
    • Extend Prentice Drive from Lockridge across to Greenway transit
    • Extend Shellhorn Rd
    • Provide transit connections to the Metro stations
    • Construct Moorefield Blvd
    • Construct Greenway loop
    • Loudoun Metrorail Station Pedestrian improvements
    • Complete planned park and ride lots for commuters
    There are also road improvement projects that would do more to relieve commuter congestion. For example: 

    • Complete Riverside Parkway
    • Construct VA 606 ramp
    • Complete Russell Branch Pkwy
    • Construct grade-separated interchanges along Rt 50 at Loudoun County Pkwy and more
    • Complete improvements on Rt 15 and Rt 9 to better manage traffic
    • Investing in our existing road network, providing better access to transit, and figuring out how to increase capacity on the American Legion Bridge are all options that deserve more focus than a new bridge (particularly one in a state that doesn’t want it — see LoudounNow for Montgomery County’s reaction to the project).

    2. The bulk of the traffic is east-west. The numbers speak volumes:
    • 47% of Loudoun residents work in the county, 92% work in VA or DC
    • 46% of Fairfax residents work in Fairfax; 96% work in VA or DC
    • 49% live and work in Montgomery County; approximately 8% work in Fairfax and inner suburbs out of 9.3% total employed in Virginia
    • 62.9% of Frederick residents work in Frederick and Montgomery Counties;
    • 90.4% work in MD or DC, 5.9% work in Virginia

    3. Sprawl. New and ever-widening roads create development pressure and induce sprawl. Instead of supporting walkable, thriving communities, they become physical barriers and incentives for people to move farther away from work.
    Furthermore, when combined with the Bi-County Parkway to form the Outer Beltway, a new bridge would promote increased development in the Loudoun Transition Area, Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve and the Prince William County Rural Crescent, all areas that citizens have long supported for conservation, not sprawl.

    4. It would devalue other transportation investments and strain local road networks. Inserting a new bridge undermines prior and ongoing investments in congestion relief projects on Rt 7 and Rt 28. These projects weren’t planned to handle additional cross-river commutes and long-haul traffic. It would also disrupt non-peak hour mobility in eastern Loudoun and lead to more traffic all the time.

    5. It’s a threat to drinking water. There are short-term and long-term considerations, such as:
    • How would our regional drinking water source (and others downstream) be adequately protected during construction or in the event of a spill on the bridge?
    • The additional development this sort of project brings with it will result in more impervious surfaces –making it ever harder to provide clean, safe, and affordable drinking water.
    • Per the Loudoun Board’s direction, staff is looking at sites for a bridge within 8 miles upstream of the intake, and some sites could be within a mile. Depending on location, pollution could hit the intake with little time to react.
    Just keep in mind that Fairfax Water serves Loudoun, Dulles, Herndon, Alexandria, Falls Church and the City of Fairfax as well as Fort Belvoir and Prince William from two intake sites. The northern intake for the Corbalis treatment plant is mid-river in the Potomac, just upstream from the Loudoun Fairfax county line.

    6. Direct impact on neighborhoods near the bridge. Noise, pollution, new traffic and lower home values are all issues existing homeowners would face. In addition, how many would be threatened with eminent domain in order to create a path for both the bridge and connecting roadways? Put yourself in their shoes. Why should they sacrifice their homes, property values, neighborhoods, clean air and water for a boondoggle project?

    7. Who would pay for it? Bridge boosters suggest making this a toll project would avoid the drain on limited regional funds. Adding a $10 dollar or more toll for the bridge on top of tolls on 95, 66 and the Beltway seems unrealistic. And whatever the initial toll, Loudoun residents also have some experience with ever-rising rates on the Greenway… Even worse than high tolls, there is a real possibility that the region’s taxpayers will be asked to absorb the cost through a regional tax or a large share of all funds available for transportation from Federal and state sources.

    8. Old-fashioned, outdated Outer beltways are transportation solutions out of the 1950s. A majority of businesses now prefer transit-oriented locations, moving away from isolated campuses scattered along access roads radiating out from the Beltway. Maintaining and improving our existing roads and highways PLUS adequately maintaining and funding Metro are better investments for today that will help reduce traffic now and into the future.

    So how do we put an end to zombie projects like this one and focus on better solutions for our congestion woes? 

    A simple comparison of our options is a good start (instead of just deciding yes/no on one mega-project). The pros and cons of the various transportation projects should be brought to the forefront, allowing for an informed decision on how we spend our limited dollars. Any comparison should factor in things like induced development and traffic, community disruption, access related to affordability, and east-west congestion needs, to name a few.

    These boondoggles are primarily supported by speculative developers seeking to increase the value of scattered parcels. t We can’t afford a diversion of our resources to construct them, particularly when it means a delay in the funding of real solutions to address existing congestion in the region.

    It’s time this zombie dies for good.

    TAKE ACTION LINK: http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/50930/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=22906

    There are a number of policy-makers with a role in determining the future of this project. Three of those entities, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, and the Loudoun Board of Supervisors all need to hear from the public. The public comment periods vary, but the earliest is midnight this Sunday, July 23rd. By acting now, your comments will be on the public record for each of them.

  • 2017-07-30 at 7:26 am
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    3 counties are for the bridge but the county where the bridge will disrupt the preserve is against it. These 3 counties have always been fine with Montgomery getting their ox gored. They don’t vote in Montgomery or Virginia and want to build a bridge for truck traffic out of Dulles, c’mon man!

  • 2017-08-01 at 12:41 pm
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    Widen the pool and you get divides in Maryland but don’t ask the 9-0 council NO vote!

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