Monday, August 20, 2012



Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive

"Hooray!  Finally, someone is doing nothing about something!"

I don't know if that was an exact quote, but the above sentence sums up the decidedly-awestruck tone of media coverage of a recent "high tea" party, held by the Montgomery and Fairfax County Councils.  The meeting was presided over by Ronald Kirby, Transportation Planning Director for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Which is an Orwellian title indeed, as the sum of Kirby's public statements suggests he shares the Montgomery County Council's anti-highway, anti-car fervor - and promotion of transit-only policies that benefit development interests.

No surprise, then, that all parties involved conveniently reached a consensus that the solution to Beltway gridlock is... buses.  Never mind that there used to be a Bethesda-Tysons Corner bus that was terminated for lack of ridership.  "Rapid" bus?  Uh, what are you going to do, put bus stops on the shoulder?

Also predictably, we're told that widening the bridge would cost $800 million, and Beltway HOT lanes on the Maryland side would be even more cost prohibitive.

The good news I have for those doomsayers, is that we actually don't need to do either of those things.

What we need to do, is finish our 50-year-old master plan highway system. The twist is that the very numbers anti-highway Kirby touted, actually prove that he and the County Council are wrong, and I - and the planners of five decades ago - are right.

These studies clarify the missing highway capacity of the unbuilt Rockville Freeway and Outer Beltway.

Virginia drivers, the studies say, are headed to Interstate 270 27% of the time when they cross the Legion Bridge.  And a whopping 63% want to go east on the Beltway.

The 270 folks would use Potomac River bridges planned for the Outer Beltway and the Rockville Freeway to reach western Montgomery County and 270.  If one or both bridges were built, you'd have 27% of American Legion Bridge cars off the Beltway right there.

That 63% heading east?  It's likely some portion of that group could use the Rockville Freeway and ICC to reach their eastern destinations.  A Beltway-ICC link via the unbuilt Northern Parkway would further decrease that 63% group of cars headed east from Virginia.

How about Maryland drivers?

We've been told for years that nobody crossing the Legion Bridge in the morning from Maryland is going to Dulles.  Common sense told us that was bunk.  And now, the studies confirm it was complete and utter bunk.

23% of Maryland bridge-crossers are headed for the Dulles area.  Just consider that for a moment:  a Potomac crossing to Dulles via the unbuilt Outer Beltway and/or unbuilt Rockville Freeway, would take a full fourth of Virginia-bound cars off the Legion Bridge like a magic wand.

Another 24% of Maryland crossers were headed to areas of Northern Virginia that would be accessible to drivers on proposed bridges via the Rockville Freeway (Fairfax County Parkway) or Outer Beltway (Sully Road/Rt. 28, or the now-talked-about alternative west of Dulles).

In total, one or two additional bridges would reduce Virginia-bound traffic by nearly 50%.  And reduce Maryland-bound traffic by at least 50%.

And there are actually people opposed to new highways and bridges?!

Yes!  The scary thing is, among those opponents, are the very people discussing the future of the American Legion Bridge at this comedic farce of a meeting.

Best of all?  The $800 million cost of the unnecessary American Legion Bridge widening would could pay for the construction of most of the Rockville Freeway within Montgomery County, between 270 and the ICC.

Federal funds, as well as private/toll-funded options, could very realistically be secured to build at least one new Potomac River bridge.  Even if the Rockville Freeway only ran between 270 and the ICC (at Indian Spring Country Club), drivers crossing an I-370/ICC bridge could easily access it via 270.  The Rockville Freeway's 270 interchange already exists; most today know it as Montrose Road.

The good news is that one of Bethesda's biggest traffic nightmares, the American Legion Bridge, can be fixed without widening the bridge or the Beltway.  And if your home is one that would be demolished to make way for that widening, I suspect you'd have a strong self-interest in supporting the Rockville Freeway and Outer Beltway (both can be built without destroying homes within Montgomery County, as can the Northern Parkway).

The bad news, is that your county council and the wise people at COG have studied the same data I've presented to you here, and concluded that the answer is to do something short of nothing.

"Hooray!" for "leadership."


Anonymous said...

Great post. I can't believe Maryland can't do anything to ease traffic backups on 495 N from the 270 split where it turns into 2 lanes. And we need a another bridge west of the legion bridge desperately.

Robert Dyer said...

Thanks! You bring up a good point about that area around the 270 spur. There were several other unbuilt freeways whose absence taxes the spur and that stretch of 270/495 beyond intended capacity.

I should do a separate post on that.

In addition to the missing bridge(s) upriver from the Legion bridge, it's fascinating that there are at least 4 canceled bridges downriver: Arizona Avenue NW, Three Sisters Bridge (I-266 into Georgetown by Georgetown University), B&O Railroad bridge (by Dalecarlia Reservoir), and the Outer Beltway's 2nd bridge below the Wilson bridge.