On the American Legion Bridge and 270 improvement plan
July 22, 2021
Some may be surprised that I brokered a deal to fund transit with toll revenue from the managed lanes plan — and supported moving forward with that plan.
You shouldn’t be. First of all, I have said clearly and consistently: my position is I want 1. the project to remain the existing right of way and 2. to make transit a real component.
With the agreement from the state to fund transit with toll revenue, these goals will be met.
Let’s talk about transit funding. The resolution that the 5 Council members supported at the COG TPB, with approval/support from Transportation Secy Slater and MDOT, refers to a major transit line such as the CCT or BRT on 355 and says, “MDOT will work collaboratively with Montgomery County to develop plans for construction, final delivery, and operation, funded through ongoing toll revenue”
MDOT has also stated they will advance fund engineering on the project to take it to final stages of completion. That’s the near term money; the long term money is the toll revenue.
What project are we talking about? Either the decades long planned Corridor Cities Transitway, or a high level BRT line on Rockville Pike / 355. These are not small projects, these are big projects, well north of $500M, and we have no other prospect for funding them.
Using toll revenue — aka a carbon tax, aka congestion pricing — is a good way to pay for transit alternatives. Prior to this deal, the County and the State had no plan to pay for a transit alternative.
But let’s think bigger. There will be more toll revenue to pay for transit than what the state has committed. We may be able to make major progress on MARC expansion with additional toll revenue, just as Virginia has done, with a Democratic governor.
Virginia is funding VRE expansion with toll revenue. Maryland has no current prospects for funding MARC expansion. So if you oppose this, what’s your plan?
This is carbon and congestion pricing that will regulate traffic and sprawl and pay for transit. This is what we are supposed to be fighting for.
There is still MORE transit. The state already agreed to build long distance bus rapid transit into the proposal, at the Council’s request in 2019 — which I also organized! The dedicated on and off ramps for BRT are significant costs and will provide a very real transit alternative at regional scale.
Indeed we are studying BRT to Tysons now, an initiative the Council pushed years ago, and the results are coming back very strong. BRT is our best path to a strong transit connection directly to Tysons. Metro and MARC don’t go there directly enough. A future Purple Line extension is worth developing but that is a long way off.
I worked with my colleagues to sign a letter to the Governor calling for that BRT dedicated ramp approach in 2019; they have included it, at considerable cost.
So we are now setting into motion two transit systems with this project, and future toll revenue will enable us to do more if we can get our act together.
It is also important to note that the expansion is fairly limited. There are zero new free lanes (though I find it disheartening that some Democrats are advocating for more free lanes). There are just two toll lanes in each direction.
Let’s also talk about what Marc Elrich was calling for: reversible lanes on 270. Reversible lanes rather than new lanes. Is that a difference worth killing the project over?
Now some people are totally opposed to the P3. I just don’t get that. We already hire companies/contractors to build our infrastructure. Why shouldn’t we hire them to operate it, too? Are highways and driving rights too precious to hire a private company to manage?
What is on the table still remains entirely in the existing right of way, and even stays largely within the sound walls that you see today.
Finally, this project ensures a stronger economic future for Montgomery County by more closely connecting us to the region’s economic powerhouse and job center, NoVA. Montgomery County is declining economically and bigger changes are needed to reverse that. This is one of those changes.
The American Legion Bridge is a big barrier to economic activity between our jurisdictions — which incentivizes companies to locate in Virginia rather than Maryland and thereby accelerates the regional shift South at our expense.
Fixing this problem can help retain some regional balance. Opposing a solution here doesn’t advance any important goals, it just moves growth to a different part of the region — Virginia. Opposing it doesn’t deliver any transit or congestion pricing.
This project with its transit additions and funding will help us revive and thrive.