At a roadside press conference on Wednesday, Maryland governor Larry Hogan announced his $100 million plan to ease traffic along 14 of I-270’s most severe choke points. Unfortunately, it’s more of the same: a focus on moving cars that will ultimately lead back to the same congestion problems Hogan claims this plan is going to solve.
The plan is focused particularly on interchanges and where I-270 meets the Capital Beltway—also known as the Spur. According to Washington Post reports, Hogan’s pilot proposal will allow drivers and buses to use highway shoulders at rush hour and also install traffic lights to stagger cars entering the highway.
The plan also includes 23 new lane miles, which will join nearby on- and off-ramps, like between Falls Road and Route 28. The state will also convert some highway shoulders into HOV lanes.
To retain a third northbound lane to the Comus Road overpass, a new lane will be carved into the northbound median near Route 121 just north of regular morning and evening backups where the road narrows from three to two lanes.
Hogan says that, thanks to this project, traffic will flow more smoothly and the number of crashes and subsequent backups will drop.
This project is going to cost a lot of money that could be better used elsewhere
The administration is contributing $100 million in funding, plus an additional $5 million drawn from unspecified sources (money the state couldn’t find two weeks ago when Metro was cutting service) for this project.
Diverting state funds to widening roads along a 12 mile stretch on I-270 in Montgomery County, along with squandering a $900 million investment from the federal government for Baltimore’s Red Line light rail project, ensures that cars and roads are the long-term priority, while starving regional transit development.
“When I-270 was widened to 12 lanes from Germantown to the Beltway in the early 1990s, the State Highway Administration promised that travel times would go down by half an hour or more,” said Ronit Dancis, the board president of the Action Committee for Transit (ACT). “Instead, within a few years the roads spilled over with more traffic, and the backups have only increased.”
(Full disclosure: I’m a member of ACT).
Although the governor called for “innovative” proposals to alleviate traffic on the 270 corridor, it appears some proposals weren’t considered at all. That $100 million could have gone toward increasing public transit options that would have actually alleviated road traffic.
More specifically, the money could have:
Added a second train platform at Point of Rocks station for Frederick-bound train stops
Built a third track between the Monocacy River and Barnesville allowing faster passenger trains to bypass freight trains
Purchased additional MARC train cars.
Instead of offering innovative 21st century solutions to long-standing problems, the Hogan administration’s vision extends only towards mid-twentieth century options we know don’t work.
As transit activist and Maryland state Delegate Robbyn Lewis (D46) sees it, induced demand will never alleviate our traffic problems. “Adding highway lanes does nothing except increase traffic congestion. The problem is the economic phenomenon called induced demand. Make more of something, then people will want more of it until demand exceeds supply.”
In reducing public transit along this busiest corridor, it is clear that the state is not forward looking. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board recently approved cuts to the J7 and J9 bus lines that run along I-270, now leaving their riders in the lurch. According to The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, DC metro residents are left sitting in epic amounts traffic— more than 75% of Montgomery and Prince George's driving commuters face the worst commute times in the country.
But rather than create viable options to road-widening and nerve-wracking commute times, this administration will keep playing the same losing hand while gambling with our transit future.