Relief ahead for Montgomery County crossroads

A traffic-relief project that Maryland planners have been discussing since the 1990s is just getting underway at the junction of Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road in Glenmont.

By early 2017, the $74.8 million project will have pushed four through lanes of east-west Randolph Road beneath north-south Georgia Avenue, and Georgia will get an extra lane in each direction through the area.

At a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday morning, Maryland and Montgomery County officials noted that the higher fuel taxes approved last year are one factor in advancing state projects like this. But the tax increase was just one late entry in the long road from concept to construction. The state’s share of the cost is $17.6 million. The federal government, which faces its own issues with a diminishing Highway Trust Fund, is contributing $42.8 million. Montgomery County, which for many years made this project a top priority in its transportation program, is contributing $14.4 million.

Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), a supporter of the project for a dozen years, said the county share comes from a transportation fund supported by county liquor store revenue and general funds. Sustained county support, through financing and political lobbying at the state level, was an important factor in keeping the project alive through some difficult economic times over the past few years.

The complexities of converting the intersection into an interchange also lengthened the project’s timeline. There were other ways of doing this. For example, Georgia Avenue could have gone under Randolph Road. But then, there was Metro’s Red Line tunnel to consider, said SHA project manager Brett Deane. Putting Randolph Road into an underpass reduces the project’s overlap area with the Metro tunnel. Planners also sought to use the project to enhance walking and biking safety in this area just south of the Glenmont Metro station.

But the interchange project does have a high impact on the nearby surface areas. The principal issue was the need to relocate the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department building on the southeast corner of the intersection. Then there were the utility relocations, involving Pepco, Verizon, Washington Gas and WSSC, among others.

Then there’s the need to keep traffic flowing through the intersection during more than two years of construction. Deane said plans call for keeping all lanes open during morning and evening rush hours.

Still, traffic is likely to move more slowly than normal — not that normal is very fast in this area. Drivers will get a chance to gawk at the tearing down of the firehouse. Then they’ll watch as new asphalt is laid at the sides of Randolph Road to create a detour around the central work zone. Eventually, all drivers using the intersection will experience some sort of disruption for construction.

All this planning, money assembling and preliminary work has taken so long that traffic conditions at the intersection have changed a bit. It’s less worse than it was when the reconstruction plans were in development. I blame that on Melinda B. Peters. She now leads the State Highway Administration, but before that, she was the project manager who built the Intercounty Connector highway several miles north of Georgia Avenue/Randolph Road. Last year, an SHA traffic study found that traffic on some of Montgomery County’s major commuter routes had eased up since the ICC opened.

Georgia Avenue/Randolph Road doesn’t appear on the Montgomery County Planning Department’s latest list of worst intersections.

But Peters won’t take the heat on that. Yes, Peters said, the ICC helped ease traffic, and the interchange will help even more. “It’s still needed,” she said. And not just for cars. As she and other state and county speakers noted during the groundbreaking, the project is in part meant to compliment other efforts in the area, including a mixed use development just to the north. Bikers and walkers should feel safer and have better access at what is now an intimidating crossing.

The reconstruction plan


Maryland State Highway Administration map shows traffic patterns after reconstruction.
  • Two lanes in each direction on Randolph Road will be sunk about 25 feet below Georgia Avenue, so that the Randolph Road traffic can get past Georgia Avenue without stopping for a traffic signal.
  • The additional through lane on Georgia Avenue also should ease traffic flow. The Glenmont Greenway Trail will be extended on the west side of Georgia Avenue for an additional 900 feet past Randolph Road. New sidewalks also are part of the project.
  • Drivers still will be able to make their left and right turns. The left turns will be controlled by traffic signals, as they are today. Right-turning traffic will use short merge ramps.
  • The intersection is used by about 86,000 motorists a day. Deane said the volumes on Georgia and on Randolph are similar.

See also
The rebuilding of Georgia Avenue-Randolph Road was on my list of top 10 transportation projects to watch in 2014.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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