The Montgomery County Council and staff have surveyed two of the nation's most notorious traffic snarls - the American Legion Bridge/I-495, and I-270. They have examined these 7th and 8th Circles of Hell. They've brought their infinite wisdom to bear on one of the biggest obstacles to attracting new employers to Montgomery County (traffic gridlock).
And they've concluded the answer is... carpools.
Apparently, on whatever planet, and in whichever dimension, these folks reside in, this makes perfectly plausible sense to them.
Reality can be harsh.
They've studied a problem that has two definitive causes: the failure to build at least three additional Potomac River bridges, and the failure to build our master plan highway system.
And what they've proposed specifically, is this: turn the shoulders of 495 between Tysons Corner and the 270 spur into HOV/bus lanes. And take an existing lane of I-270, and designate it an HOV lane.
In the first case, they have not increased capacity for the majority of drivers, and they have proposed a solution that could actually create worse traffic jams, and reduce safety.
Very few people carpool or take the bus on the Beltway. So moving those vehicles onto the shoulder would have virtually no impact on travel lanes. What would happen, however, is that the frequent broken-down or fender-bendered cars would now have no refuge at the side of the road. There's no shoulder to pull off to, under the council's scenario.
I happen to recall driving from Virginia into Maryland one afternoon rush hour, and seeing a broken-down school bus on the shoulder. Had the council's plan been in effect, those children would have been out in the middle of interstate highway traffic. Is that a situation the parents of Montgomery County can buy into?
In addition, if someone breaks down in that shoulder "lane," you would have a jam worse than ever, as all of the buses and carpoolers would have to change lanes to get around that disabled car.
At least they're not proposing to "steal" a lane there. But further north on 270, that's exactly what their plan calls for. They want to turn an existing lane into an HOV lane. In other words, congestion will get worse, not better. Have you ever been at a dead stop at the 270 spur, and noticed the HOV lane is essentially empty? So we're all sitting here, just so some politician can say he's "green?"
Surprisingly, or not, local media had no critical questions to ask the council, despite the plan's patent absurdity. Instead, we are treated to more Orwellian statements about 21st century solutions, and "getting people out of their cars," something no one besides Communist China has been able to do so far.
Traffic congestion will not improve whatsoever should the council implement both their HOV plan, and the equally laughable Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal. In fact, in both cases, traffic would be worse.
But gridlock could be all but eliminated, if we made a belated commitment to building our master plan highways: The Outer Beltway, Rockville Freeway, M-83 Mid-county Highway Extended, Northwest Freeway, and the Northern Parkway. And at least one new Potomac River crossing.
There is simply no way the council can add 85,000 new cars to our existing highway system, as they plan to do, when it can't even handle today's traffic.
It's fine if the council wants to delude themselves that we can bus and carpool ourselves out of this mess. But citizens and the media should cease to indulge decisions that place ideology over reality and decades of traffic engineering research.
We have "leaders" telling us they're adding 100,000 new residents to the county, which means 85,000 new cars driven by people who will not ride transit under any circumstances.
How many master plan highways is that same council proposing to build in the next 10-20 years?
We can't go on like this.