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.