Monday, June 10, 2013


A highway battle currently raging in Virginia could have severe impacts on traffic here in Bethesda, and a large portion of Montgomery County. If it results in a capitulation by elected officials in Virginia, the loss of a potential new Potomac River crossing would prolong an existing failure to attract large employers to our side of the river.

Many years, and Virginia taxpayer dollars, were put into preparing VA Route 28 as a potential link in a future Outer Beltway. Also known as Sully Road, VA 28 passes along the eastern side of Dulles Airport. If you look on a map, you'll notice many of its intersections have been transformed into cloverleaf interchanges, such as you find on the Beltway and other interstates.

While discussion of a future Potomac River crossing connecting VA 28 to I-370 in MD has rarely been open, it was often assumed to be the most cost-effective solution to several congestion and access issues on both sides.

But over the last 2 years, Virginia transportation officials have begun to emphasize a highway corridor west of Dulles Airport. Anchored around a north-south Bi-County Parkway, it is now thought by many to be the new route of the Outer Beltway.

I personally would not strongly object to that happening. But I'm concerned that the new plan is stirring up more unnecessary fights with residents near the western Dulles route. Should the proposal fail as a result, it could also delay construction of the new river crossing.

A VA 28 Outer Beltway route (see map below) would be less expensive to build for Virginia taxpayers. And if the Bi-County Parkway is canceled, I would hope Virginia officials would immediately turn their attention back to Route 28, and a Potomac River crossing.

Why is a new crossing so important to Montgomery County?

First, our lack of access to Dulles Airport is a major reason large companies choose Virginia over Montgomery County. A short route across the Potomac would not only provide that access, but also allow hotels in our I-270 corridor to enter the airport hotel market for Dulles.

Second, the numbers clearly prove that a new Potomac River crossing would reduce up to a fourth of the traffic on Bethesda's congested American Legion bridge during rush hour, in both directions.

A 2012 study, presented by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, showed that 23% of Maryland drivers on the bridge are headed to the Dulles area.

And that 27% of Virginia drivers crossing the Legion bridge are heading to I-270.

A new bridge would provide easy access for both sets of drivers, as well as high-paying jobs for Montgomery County residents.

So this is a story worth paying attention to on our side of the river, as our county's economy has been stagnant for many years.

If Virginia officials succeed with the Bi-County Parkway project, that's fine. But if it fails, they should return to the VA 28 concept. As the map below shows, it can achieve the airport access and same Outer Beltway route through the Dumfries area, back to I-95, as the Bi-County Parkway alternative.

At the same time, elected officials on our side of the river need to start working with their Virginia counterparts - like Outer Beltway proponent Sen. Mark Warner - to build this essential crossing.

Every day we do nothing, we lose more jobs to Fairfax and Loudoun counties, and we spend another day in gridlock on the Beltway and I-270.


RT said...

The outer beltway is horrible idea that will just create more sprawl and then more traffic. I agree that we need another river crossing but it should be in the form of public transportation. They should extend the purple line to Tysons.

Robert Dyer said...

You could have a Metro line run in the median of the Outer Beltway, that would connect Shady Grove to the Silver Line in Tysons, and save money, also. Development from an Outer Beltway wouldn't be as bad as MoCo's plan to build urban cities in the country in Science City and Olney. That's sprawl, too.

Anonymous said...

1. You're foolish if you think an Outer Beltway in Montgomery wouldn't lead to development and sprawl there. And how can you claim "it wouldn't be as bad" as Shady Grove? You consistently make up facts.

2. We already built one highway for businesses to get easier access to BWI Airport (the ICC, bankrupting the state's transportation fund in the process) and look how that turned out. The answer is fewer cars, more transit. It's more and more obvious every day. Get your head out of the sand.

Anonymous said...

The future will be green, zero emission intelligent cars.

Autonomous car technology is in the near future (many of the early tech is here already). Google's autonmous car has logged hundreds of miles already.

We'll need highways to accomodate them! Don't be stuck thinking about old ways, embrace the future.

Robert Dyer said...

Talk about hyperbole! I never "make up facts." Roads like the Outer Beltway do not allow as much density as transit will in Science City and Olney. That's a fact. Fact #2: Check my map again: The route I've drawn from I-370 to the river uses a public right-of-way through land that is already developed. In contrast, the county council's Science City plan is allowing farms to be turned into urban cities. It is positively Orwellian to call that "smart growth." Science City and BRT in Olney are sprawl.

The commenter below is right. Cars are here to stay as the primary mode of transportation. They are infinitely more convenient for most commuters.

I opposed the ICC as a toll road. The ICC is the worst of all worlds in terms of the financing. The problem is, corporations want access to Dulles, not BWI. There is a difference, and it matters greatly to companies in international markets.

We can't allow a small group of developers and politicians to hold the county's economy and commuters hostage any longer. It's "more and more obvious every day," looking at the job numbers in MoCo vs. Loudoun and Fairfax, that we need to finish our highway system.

Dan B said...

A few things:
(1) The right-of-way you suggested in Montgomery County is Muddy Branch Park. That's protected land which will never get a freeway.
(2) Science City and BRT are not "sprawl," as you suggest, because they result in further centralization of jobs in designated places. Transit to those places allows for more people to get there without cars. Which is why there needs to be good transit to those places. Not cars, not low-density, not poorly connected. Not sprawl. Science City is in a preexisting area that is not on the outskirts of the county, nor in the Agricultural Reserve.
(3) Airport hotels are usually within about two miles of an airport. Not five or ten. So MoCo is too far for those anyway. Moot point.
(4) Your traffic analysis is shallow. Adding another Potomac connection does not mean that every last driver on the Legion Bridge between Dulles and MoCo will use the new one. Half at best, though most people are closer to the Legion Bridge on both sides anyway.
(5) It's not developers and politicians opposing it, it's residents of the affected area. Read the stories on the public hearing in Manassas to get an idea.
(6) If ICC wasn't tolled, how would it be financed?
(7) Cars, automated or not, still require far more space than public transportation.
(8) MoCo's economy is not "stagnant." Is that what you call 3.4% population growth?

Robert Dyer said...

1. Many of the stream valley parks around the area are actually highway facilities that were set aside for that purpose. The ability of the county councilmembers and developers to build on, near and over streams (Little Falls Stream Valley Park the most recent example) when it profits them, but oppose it when it conflicts with their extreme, anti-highway ideology, is, frankly, hysterical.

2.  Science City is not a "preexisting area," it is in an agricultural area, as anyone can see for themselves driving out Route 28. There is a huge difference between edge cities like Bethesda and Silver Spring and bedroom communities like Rockville and Wheaton. Urban-style development in a farm area is sprawl. There's a ton of vacant office space in the downcounty. If "centralization of jobs" is critical, why are they jumping out there before utilizing existing office space?

3. Not a moot point. I've stayed in hotels with airport shuttles farther than 2 miles. 270 corridor to Dulles via a 60+ MPH highway would be a pretty quick trip.

4.  My traffic analysis is solid. I gave you the specific percentages heading to Dulles or 270. Who would say, "gosh, I'll take the old, longer way, instead of the new bridge!"?

5. Last time I checked, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Stephen Fuller, etc. are all developer-backed entities. "Smart growth" developers are fighting exurb homebuilders for the future housing market. Having said that, you missed the whole point of my article, which is that the VA 28 route could avoid riling up residents west of the airport. 

6. If you're going to toll a road, you should have a private company build and operate it. Here we paid for everything, and now we get to pay eternal tolls to boot. Terrible arrangement.

7. Is there a moral argument for spending 2 hours commuting instead of 45 minutes to an hour? Transit does not meet the needs or schedule of every citizen.

8. If population growth were economic growth, the third world would be rich. How about the job numbers? How many large employers have moved to the county in the last year? Four years? 8 years? The actual economic numbers are horrific in MoCo.

Dan B said...

(1) Try that now. Really. Just try. 1970s planning ideology in the 2010s just doesn't stick.
(4) It's not solid. Someone living in North Bethesda and working in Tysons is not going to save time by going all the way up to North Potomac and all the way down to Tysons. They count in your statistic. And the population density is much, much heavier on the southern parts of both the Beltway and Dulles Toll Road. You won't go all the way up to the ICC and then all the way down the Toll Road, just because there's a new road.
(5) Evidence?
(6) See point 1. If it was set aside by the state and people currently enjoy its park state, good luck happily handing that over to a private developer. That's EXACTLY what you claim Coalition for Smarter Growth and other organizations are trying to do.
(7) And no, transit doesn't meet everyone's needs. That doesn't mean highways meet everyone's needs either. Not everyone can afford a car.

Anonymous said...

Metro isn't exactly a bargain. It really adds up, especially if you have to add a bus fare at either end of your trip or have to pay to park at a Metro lot.

Robert Dyer said...

1. When the MoCo planning board and council sold a piece of Little Falls Park to a developer for private profit, for a Dr. Evil-esque $500,000 (in 20816!), and allowed it to build on, around and over the stream and watershed, I didn't hear a peep from anybody. And a watershed group testified in favor of the developer. They "tried." They succeeded. Let's now try to use a public highway facility for the greater *public* good. Surely we won't hear a peep from the public or media that time, either, right? Hmmm...

4. It is rock solid. Read the statistic I gave: 23% of MD drivers crossing the Legion bridge are heading to Dulles. Dulles. Not Tysons Corner. Drivers from North Bethesda going to Tysons are not in that 23%. The MD-Dulles 23% are the ones who will switch to the new bridge, giving significant congestion relief to the Legion bridge, 495 and 270. No other proposal does that.

5. You are not aware that, for example, Dr. Fuller's research and pro-development speeches are funded by development interests? This was even reported in the Washington Post.

6. See Point 1. But what does parkland have to do with whether a road is tolled or not?

7. I think you have well-articulated the argument I'm making: we need both highways and transit. Some on the county council are saying transit-only, and that is a Fantasy Island approach. My most recent trips on Metro, and transferring to buses, have cost more than it would have to drive the same distance. But I still use Metro in those cases, if it is the sensible choice for the destination. We need options, not ideology.

Dan B said...

(1) There is a HUGE difference between a small parcel and bisecting an entire park. There's also a huge difference in environmental impact. Runoff from a parcel is significantly easier to mitigate than an entire highway. Let's also think of the political implications of replacing a public amenity with a project that could reduce home values in the immediate area.
(4) It's not rock solid. Replace Tysons with the Toll Road a mile past Tysons. Same difference, essentially. Not to mention, it's not like people act as if tolls don't exist. Tolls will definitely deter some people from using it.
(5) Give me evidence of all the other groups you allege. One person paid by a developer does not a conspiracy make.
(6) It has to do with whether a public or private entity will handle the situation. See the Outer Beltway battle to see how hard it is for a public entity to get something done. Now imagine the implications of handing the keys over to a private developer. Political suicide.
(7) Are you counting externalities like depreciation, insurance, and maintenance? Almost definitely not.

Robert Dyer said...

1. When that "small" parcel contains MTBE, a fuel additive responsible for contaminating water supplies from coast to coast, that's some serious construction runoff. Unfortunately, our elected officials have this god complex, where they believe they can tell us something is bad for the environment, except when they say it's good. Sewer for Mitch Rales estate? No problem. Destroy a mile-long thin forest in Chevy Chase, and replace it with a road-like "sidewalk," paving the way for a secret plan to develop the land behind the Chevy Chase Club as "smart growth?" No problem. But using a public right-of-way for the good of the *public* for once, reducing congestion, and providing jobs? "Oh, the humanity!" Please. And easy highway access will increase home values, not reduce them.

4. It is rock solid. The tolls on the Dulles Toll Road are skyrocketing. That won't be much competition for the new bridge.

5. Have you personally examined the donor lists of CSG and their affiliate Piedmont Environmental Council, to see the sources that fund their operations? And you can't just sweep a major player like Fuller under the rug. He's the right hand of every inner suburban developer-beholden government, and a major embarrassment for the "smart" growth machine.

6. Private roads have been successful in other states, including the new Express Lanes in VA, and Texas. Those are places whose economies are booming, while MoCo is flatlining.

7. Fare increases, no free bus transfer, wasted time, Metro parking costs... I think transit has lost the advantage through failed leadership at Metro. How many people are entirely car-free? They would have to buy insurance anyway.