In a county known for responsive government, Montgomery County’s current leaders are failing badly when it comes to responding to the majority of us who want action on our No. 1 concern — traffic relief.
On May 6, I submitted a detailed letter to Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and County Councilmember Tom Hucker, who chairs the county council’s Transportation and Environment Committee. I expressed my disappointment with their recent town hall meeting on Maryland’s traffic relief plan, a one-sided, no-roads rally organized with taxpayer funds.
No Maryland Department of Transportation officials, no one from the governor’s office, nor any pro-transportation advocacy groups were even invited to speak. Those who did speak chose to spread misinformation, rather than facts, like falsely claiming that taxpayers would be at risk (plan documents show they would not), and that the I-495 and I-270 improvements would impact 300 acres of parkland (the correct number is 30 acres in Montgomery and nine in Prince George’s County, and that is worst-case. I checked).
My letter challenged Mr. Elrich and Mr. Hucker to do more than just use their official positions to foment opposition to the one practical solution that has actually been shown to reduce congestion, can pay for itself, can be built in our lifetimes, will cut average delays by up to 35 percent, and that enjoys the support of a 61 percent to 34 percent majority of area residents. I asked them to “propose, don’t just oppose” and to come forward with a specific plan of their own, if they don’t like the plan MDOT is now studying.
Mind you, I’ve served for many years as vice chair of one of the leading transportation advocacy groups in the region and have worked with local officials for years on many other transit and road improvements. I fought hard for the Purple Line and am currently co-leading an effort for a dedicated cycling and pedestrian facility to Shady Grove Metro station on behalf of 35,000 Montgomery County citizens. I’m also actively supporting the governor’s public-private, or P3, project because I know we need transit and road solutions together.
Given my long-term commitment to transportation advocacy in the region, I expected the courtesy of a response, at the very least, even if it was just a form letter.
What I got was radio silence.
So now I am asking again, this time in a more public way: Mr. Elrich and Mr. Hucker, if you do not favor the Maryland Department of Transportation plan to improve the American Legion Bridge, I-270 and the Beltway, then:
- What exactly is your plan (and I don’t mean some vague reference to transit, I mean specifically what are you proposing that is not already in current plans)? Keep in mind the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, all the region’s planned bus-rapid-transit lines, Metro improvements and MARC expansion are all already included in the no-build alternative and are already part of this study, so I mean what beyond these major transit investments we’re already making?
- How much does your alternative plan relieve congestion and reduce travel times on I-495 and I-270?
- How much will it cost?
- How will it be funded, where is the revenue coming from?
- When can it be delivered?
We all look forward to your reply.
For comparison, the State Highway Administration just did a series of public workshops where they answered all of these questions about the state’s plan. SHA took heat from opponents, but they put their cards on the table and showed us detailed maps, cost estimates, potential impacts and travel-time savings. They even set up a website with all the materials online. You may or may not like their plan, but at least they have been transparent enough to tell us, in great detail, what it is and how effective it would be in reducing congestion.
What about you, Montgomery County?
If anyone in Montgomery County government (or Prince George’s) has a better suggestion for cutting traffic delays on the Beltway and I-270 by 35 percent, then by all means, let’s hear it. And be specific.
What we don’t need is more delay by opportunistic politicians playing to the grandstands, focusing all of their efforts on blocking the only real solutions anyone has put forward, and using taxpayer funds to essentially lobby against critical investments that are in our region’s approved long-term plans, and that residents stuck in the nation’s worst congestion desperately need.
The writer is vice chairman of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance.
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