They say there are two constants in life: death and taxes. However, if you live in Montgomery County, there's a third: traffic congestion .
Unfortunately, some Montgomery County politicians seem almost to scoff at any real solution to that last constant.
Take Montgomery County Council candidate Ben Shnider's recent critique of Gov. Larry Hogan's (R) proposal for Interstate 270. Shnider, a Democrat, is correct to point out that Hogan's proposal does not go far enough. But Shnider argues for policies that would, ironically, make traffic only worse. Meanwhile, his Democratic primary opponent, incumbent council member Sidney Katz (Gaithersburg-Rockville), has shown little interest in solving traffic issues in Montgomery County, particularly along the busy I-270, Route 355 and Routes 28 and 97 corridors near his council district. Katz's inaction speaks far louder than his words.
Shnider argues that there needs to be a "more holistic approach" to traffic at intersections such as those at Routes 355 and 586 (Veirs Mill Road) and Route 355 and Wootton Parkway. He says adding lanes to I-270 would not address this. But traffic along the Route 355 corridor is a byproduct of congestion on I-270, meaning people take Route 355 because I-270 is so clogged. Additionally, Metro's Red Line already runs parallel to Route 355 from Metro's Shady Grove station all the way into the District. There also are viable driving alternatives along the Route 355 corridor, but traffic remains terrible.
Shnider also suggests that bus rapid transit (BRT) is a good alternative. However, studies of bus rapid transit from other parts of the country show that numbers both for dollars and riders make little sense and will not solve traffic woes. Considering the number of actual riders of a proposed BRT system, it would mean removing a travel lane to accommodate a fraction of that road's traffic. Think about it: How would taking away a travel lane somehow improve traffic? Only in Montgomery County does this make any sense. Like Shnider, Katz has offered the same alternative in the vain hope that it would solve traffic.
Whether politicians like it or not, cars are here to stay, and cars will be the primary mode of transportation for the overwhelming majority of Montgomery County residents and those doing business in the county. So, let's build a plan that works with and for the overwhelming majority of Montgomery County residents. The solutions are much easier than the current council and council candidates would like to admit:
● Widen I-270, but without the tolls Hogan proposed. Simply adding reversible lanes, as County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) favors, would not work either. Anyone who travels I-270 can tell you that rush-hour traffic is bad in both directions and reducing lanes in one direction or the other would exacerbate the problem.
● Reduce tolls on Maryland's Route 200, also known as the Intercounty Connector, which links Interstate 95 and I-270. Despite a recent report suggesting that Route 200 is the second-most-used toll road in Maryland, this stretch of road is not realizing its full potential — no doubt because of the high cost of tolls. Reducing tolls on the Intercounty Connector would take cars off other major roads and ease traffic.
● Build a second Potomac River crossing, this one to connect Montgomery and Loudoun counties and to link up with the Intercounty Connector. Few ideas would benefit the people of Montgomery County as significantly as adding a second Potomac crossing. Not only would it ease traffic, but it also would create an open road for increased business in Montgomery County. Businesses looking to reach customers in Virginia or use Dulles International Airport would have easy access to new clientele. But it would simply reduce traffic jams by allowing drivers from Baltimore and beyond to access Interstates 66 and 81 in Virginia without clogging I-270. Similarly, travelers and trucks from I-66 and I-81 would be able to access I-95 without backing up traffic farther on the Capital Beltway. It just makes sense.
Politicians talk about walkable neighborhoods and mass transit as solutions to traffic, but politicians don't address nonlocal drivers in their planning. No matter how many people bike to work, interstate truckers and out-of-state visitors will need to travel over the Potomac. As the economy grows, so will traffic, and no amount of non-car infrastructure will solve that.
I offer a challenge: I cross the American Legion Bridge every day for work. I ask Shnider and Katz to drive with me at 8 a.m. on any Monday and 5 p.m. on any Friday to witness firsthand what Montgomery County residents have to suffer through. Then let's talk.