Maryland state legislators are right to question Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) plans to expand some of the state’s major highways with new toll lanes, as reported in the Feb. 10 Commuter article “Bill seeks to give Maryland counties veto power on toll plans for Beltway, I-270 ” [Metro]. Many urban planners have concluded that widening highways provides a temporary fix but can lead to more congestion as new, far-flung housing developments generate even more drivers. Local land-use control is largely to blame for the lack of affordable housing that is driving many families to live farther from their jobs, and a secondary impact is the uneven nature of our public schools.
Districts with large-lot, single-family zoning have higher-performing schools, often under capacity; districts with more affordable multifamily and townhouse developments suffer from school crowding. If politics and local control were not determining factors, regional solutions would be more straightforward. Gas taxes would increase substantially, and transportation dollars would target new road and transit connections between existing job centers, such as a new highway/transit-way between Maryland Route 200 and the Shady Grove Metro station and the Dulles corridor with a new Potomac River crossing. Single-family zoning would be strategically relaxed to allow a true diversity of unsubsidized affordable housing with easy access to key transportation routes. Last, right-sized impact fees and an increased property tax base would help build more schools and hire more teachers in areas that need them badly. These steps would help avoid the unsustainable cycle of distant sprawl and highway building.
Daniel Moss, Gaithersburg