Who would love traffic so much that they’d stand in the way of efforts to reduce it? And why would they want to do that? The only reason I could think of is that these people are deviants who get their sick kicks from being stuck in traffic and knowing that others are stuck in traffic, too. Call them auto(mobile)-erotic sadomasochists.
On Monday morning, I went to see some of these monsters.
These were people like Catherine Blais, who opposes Hogan’s plan to widen the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270 and add toll lanes. She was at Indian Springs Terrace Park in Silver Spring, Md., where politicians from Montgomery, Prince George’s and Frederick counties had gathered to announce alternatives to Hogan’s public-private, pave-the-future partnership scheme.
Blais had walked the two blocks from her house. You’d think she would have gotten in her car and driven in the hopes she’d wind up stuck in a traffic jam and could sit there, plotting and reveling in the congestion.
Beth Siniawsky was there, too. She lives next door to Blais. Siniawsky hadn’t driven either, and I began to question the assertions of the governor and his transportation capo.
“It’s a mean-spirited thing to say,” Siniawsky said. “We don’t want congestion any more than anybody else. Congestion is as bad to us as pollution and noise.”
She called Rahn’s assertion — there’s a cabal opposed to reducing traffic! — “Trumpian,” adding: “If people don’t agree with him, it seems he wants to minimize us.”
The news conference was set up in front of a playground. A Beltway wall was just beyond that, the susurrating drone of vehicles providing the soundtrack.
Some activists held signs aloft: “Hogan, what do you have against trains?” “Save our neighborhoods.” “Don’t pave my woods.”
“We are 100 percent committed to congestion relief,” said Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker (D-District 5). He discussed a package of efforts that he said would add up to a better solution.
They included making improvements to the Beltway east of I-270, with lane metering and use of the left shoulder at peak periods; extending reversible lanes on I-270 all the way to Frederick; encouraging telecommuting; and increasing funding for transit by allocating toll revenue to it.
And how much would all this cost? Hucker said, “I’m quite sure it’s less than $11 billion.” That’s the price tag of Hogan’s plan.
On Wednesday, the Maryland Board of Public Works will vote on what’s called the I-495 and I-270 P3 Program. Hogan is a yes vote. Opponents think Maryland Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp is a no. No one is sure about Comptroller Peter Franchot.
This is what I would say to him: When someone resorts to dishonesty to make their point, I start to wonder about the soundness of their point. And when someone starts their argument by saying no houses would be lost to a supersized Beltway and I-270 — when that seems to fly in the face of common sense — then you really have to wonder what’s going on.
Here’s what Hogan and Rahn could have said: No one likes being stuck in traffic. We think the best way to alleviate that is to add more lanes and charge people to use them.
Now, I don’t agree with that, but at least it would have been honest.
But honesty has been in short supply. In the same Washington Post article that included Rahn’s slap at Marylanders who would be affected if a highway is built across from their homes, the governor’s spokesman whined that no one from Hogan’s office had been invited to a well-attended town hall that Hucker hosted.
“If local leaders are truly committed to a collaborative process,” Michael Ricci said in an email, “why shut out a two-way dialogue?”
“They were invited,” Hucker told me.
Maryland has a chance to create an innovative 21st-century traffic congestion solution, one that doesn’t rely on more roads, which inevitably bring more traffic, which requires more roads, which bring more traffic . . .
In fact, the people who really want congestion — who depend on it, in fact — are the companies that operate toll lanes. Hucker said the state would have to sign a noncompete clause that arguably forbids counties from doing anything to alleviate traffic, such as adding bus rapid transit lanes, since that would threaten the concessionaire’s revenue.
And when you think about it, that is kind of sick.