SILVER SPRING—Local officials held a press conference to discuss alternatives of plans to expand local roads to ease traffic congestion.
Led by Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker, the officials announced a comparison proposal for the widening of interstates 270 and 495. Hucker also serves as the chair of the Transportation and Environment Committee on the council.
In recent months there has been considerable backlash from local officials and community members to plans that would widen the two interstates to combat heavy traffic congestion.
Local officials and the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) agree that traffic in the region is severe. According to MDOT, current traffic conditions lead to heavy traffic flow for seven to 10 hours each day on the interstates. As the area becomes more populous, expected traffic congestion is also likely to worsen.
MDOT SHA is considering viable alternatives to ease the congestion, many of which include widening portions of 270 and 495 that could encroach into neighborhoods and take land away from green spaces.
Most recently, one option state officials were considering included removing 34 homes and four businesses to make way for widening the interstates.
Prince George’s County Council Chair Todd Turner said the county is more than willing to work with state officials to find a solution that serves residents.
“We are a partner, and we want to be listened to as part of this process not dictated to, not told what to do but to work directly. We have done that before, particularly on or transportation issues,” Turner said. “We join our colleagues here in Montgomery County and in Frederick County to give some alternatives for us to discuss as part of this process.”
Originally, the Board of Public Works was scheduled to vote on an alternative with which to move forward. However, one of the members of the board was unavailable, and local officials insisted on all three members of the board being present.
The Board of Public Works is staffed by the Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, Governor Larry Hogan and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
“(Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick) counties have asked Annapolis for a balanced multi-modal solution to relieve congestion on our state highways, no one is more affected by congestion than we are, and our constituents are,” Hucker said. “No one has more expertise in relieving congestion and its causes and solutions (than we do). We are 100 percent for congestion relief here in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Frederick County, but MDOT’s process has shut us out.”
Hucker explained that state-level officials have not heard or been receptive to recommendations provided by local leaders.
“(What’s) worse is we have been described as not having any solutions, but the solution we propose is very clear in letters and testimony to MDOT every year of this administration and the previous one going back at least to 2009,” Hucker said.
The plan is supported by many local officials from the three counties. It is more balanced, less disruptive, more protective of the environment and effective at relieving congestion than MDOT’s plan, said Hucker.
“We’re releasing this today in advance of Wednesday’s key vote in the Board of Public Works, so that board members understand they have a far better alternative that enjoys the support of all elected officials in all three counties in this project,” he said.
The proposed plan, called the Locally Supported Congestion Relief Plan, would not evict any residents and would preserve local parkland. It would also be in line with local master plans which provide guidelines for sustainable growth to specific neighborhoods and communities.
The plan includes new managed lanes and new reversible managed lanes on Interstate 270 between Frederick and Potomac. For Interstate 495 the program provides new managed lanes between National Harbor and White Oak along with MARC improvements, park and ride improvements and local-serving transit options.
Possible local-serving transit projects could include Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and new metro connections among other possibilities.
Kai Hagen of the Frederick County Council noted that it’s time to tackle the traffic problem differently than we have in the past.
“Big problems don’t require a silver bullet or a single big solution,” he said. “Big problems require many small solutions, and what we’re looking at is the ultimate thinking inside the box situation. We’ve been building this box bigger and bigger trying to do the same thing for a long time. And our experience is that increasingly, the study has demonstrated over and over again that the solution is not going to work.”
Prince George’s County Councilmember Jolene Ivey (District 5) said she has heard many concerns from her community about the project. The main problem that bothers many people is the forced removal of homes and displacement of families.
“Another part of the concern is feeling like the ultimate goal of building a toll road is not something that’s going to benefit Prince George’s County equally,” Ivey said. “We don’t generally have the money to spend extra on tolls. You know we’ve seen so much about the tolls being ridiculously high in Virginia, and we know if that is the case, we’re not going to benefit from it anyway.”
Ivey also noted that the county has its own concerns when it comes to climate change. When a state builds larger roads, more cars will fill them.
She explained that county officials have been working in opposition to the project through letters and working with delegates in Annapolis.
“We’ve been firmly against it, every single member of Prince George’s County Council,” she said. “The House of Delegates passed a local bill that would’ve required the county council to be conferred with before moving forward, that passed (at the local level.)”
Ivey reiterated the possibility of other viable options to ease traffic congestion. She highlighted the possibility of incentivizing companies who allow employees to telecommute.
The Board of Public Works is expected to vote to decide on which plan to move forward with on June 5.