March 18, 2019
The Maryland Secretary of Transportation, Pete Rahn, is coming to talk with the Council on Tuesday about plans to expand I-270 and I-495. We have a lot to discuss.
Thousands of Montgomery County residents commute to jobs in the Tysons / Dulles corridor and vise versa, and our local economies are intertwined. To promote a more reliable connection, the Council has long supported adding HOV lanes on I-270 across the bridge to Virginia.
But a cars-only project is wrong for the environment and social equity, and won’t do enough to enhance mobility in the region. We need high quality transit connections to the Tysons / Dulles corridor.
The good news is that there’s a way to do that in the context of the I-270 plan. A solution is for the state to build bus-only ramps onto new managed lanes (toll/HOV/bus lanes) and operate a high-quality Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
We must hold firm against taking any homes or businesses in an expansion and the County firmly opposes any effort to expand the Beltway beyond the existing right-of-way. But we absolutely support the opportunity to add an important transit connection to NoVa.
With dedicated ramps and lanes, BRT vehicles could bypass other traffic, quickly enter and exit the highway, and provide a rapid commute from major destinations in Montgomery County such as Clarksburg, Gaithersburg, Rockville, and North Bethesda.
This new idea is gaining support. Last week Transportation Committee Chair Tom Hucker joined me to organize a letter to Secretary Rahn, signed by the full Council and County Executive Marc Elrich, that details many problems with the State’s approach and outlines our alternative vision.
We do not want to become a bedroom community to Northern Virginia. We need to build our own economic base so that our residents do not have to commute outside of the County for good jobs.
At the same time, in a regional economy, we need a high-quality transit connection from Montgomery County to the job centers in Northern Virginia. While Metro takes one hour and 15 minutes from Shady Grove to Tysons, a BRT trip could take just 30.
In addition to new BRT ramps on I-270, the letter calls for more service on the MARC Brunswick Line. MARC will be a better connection for many residents to the Amazon tech economy in Crystal City, if we can invest and get MARC trains running through to National Landing.
There is also an interesting new idea for a monorail in the I-270 corridor, which we should study, along with extending Metro’s Red Line.
All of this should be essential to the corridor expansion plan. But Hogan and Rahn are arguing that they don’t need to make any new transit investments now. That’s just wrong. Fortunately, our County’s state elected officials are raising strong criticisms of the plans.
We are also concerned that the State doesn’t intend to keep their promise to stick to existing rights of way on the Beltway from I-270 to Silver Spring. There, the right of way is frequently only 200 feet. Widening could require taking land in Rock Creek Park, homes, or businesses. That is unworkable and frankly unthinkable.
We have a better way forward, and the Governor should work collaboratively with State and County officials to get it done.