Area leaders, including U.S. Representatives John Delaney and Chris Van Hollen, and a host of local and state officials from Montgomery and Frederick Counties, gathered today to launch a new coalition effort to re-start two long-delayed project studies that hold great promise for unlocking the severe traffic nightmare that is I-270 during both rush-hours. Congressman Delaney is the group’s Honorary Chair and played a key role in its creation.
The bipartisan group of business, civic and elected leaders will press for multimodal solutions, including new express-toll lanes and regional bus-rapid-transit (BRT) using those new lanes, with the current general-purpose lanes remaining free of charge. Two project studies, the I-270/US 15 Multimodal Corridor Study and the Western Mobility Study have been on hold for decades and would be necessary to complete before any long-term construction projects to add significant new lane capacity could begin. The Fix270Now coalition is urging leaders in both parties to make restarting those project studies a top priority, and to include a multimodal express-toll and BRT alternative, running from the Virginia side of the American Legion Bridge, up the 270 Spur and the entire I-270 corridor, all the way to Frederick.
In the short term, the coalition is supporting efforts by Governor Larry Hogan to upgrade key interchanges and provide an additional $100 million to explore innovative congestion management strategies.
In the long-run, studies show the addition of new toll lanes integrated with a regional BRT system that includes the long-planned Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) would improve peak-hours speeds for outbound travelers in the afternoon rush-hour by up to 87%, and for inbound morning rush-hour travelers by up to 70%.
Maryland cannot afford further delay on proven steps to keep traffic in the state’s number-one job-creation corridor moving. SMTA is strongly supporting this effort, as both I-270 and the American Legion Bridge are among our top-priority projects that area transportation experts identified as urgent investment priorities to support our region’s economy and protect our quality-of-life. Please take a moment to add your support for this important effort by using the “sign-up” button at Fix270Now.org. Let’s get Maryland moving!
Morning rush-hour conditions created the perfect backdrop for the launching of Fix270Now.
The authors note correctly that — contrary to the “spin” we often hear from anti-road activists — tens of thousands of people are using the Intercounty Connector (ICC) every day. In fact, more passengers are traveling on the ICC each day than on the much more expensive Silver Line, traffic on the parallel section of the Beltway has dropped 8% since the ICC opened, and significant traffic relief is already being felt on surrounding local roads. It is clearly a big success. The question is, what’s next?
The idea of future extensions of the ICC — both to the west, into Northern Virginia, and to the east, to Route 50 in Prince George’s County are both worth exploring. The economic benefits from tying our region together with a more efficient highway network could be extremely significant, and it would open up new possibilities for a truly regional bus-rapid transit network using the new capacity.
What do you think? Give the article a read and share your comments here. Does extending the ICC across the Potomac and over to Route 50 make sense to you? What other priorities should we also be looking at that could deliver the same kind of game-changing impacts on congestion and overall transportation network performance across the Washington region? Let us know.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller testified in Annapolis today in favor of a far-reaching package of transportation investment measures at a hearing before the Senate Budget & Tax Committee. Calling the situation a “crisis” not a “problem” and proposing a menu of funding options for lawmakers to consider, President Miller did the one thing we’ve seen too little of from state leaders in recent years — a willingness to step up and LEAD. Bravo!
Now let’s see what the rest of our leaders are made of. As the Senate President pointed out today, this is a matter of economic survival for Maryland, especially in light of the likely passage of a major new funding package in Virginia this week. The clock is ticking…
Sign our petition right now if you are tired of congestion, poor road conditions, failing bridges and lack of new transit options. We can do something about it with your help.
For more on today’s hearing, see today’s post in the Baltimore Sun.
Both bills add $613 million in desperately needed funding to restore Maryland’s decimated transportation capital investment program. After going without a significant increase since 1992 in the motor fuel taxes (the primary source of transportation funding in Maryland), critically important projects including the Corridor Cities Transitway, Purple Line, Baltimore Red Line, and dozens of major road and intersection improvements throughout the Washington suburbs and around the state CANNOT BE BUILT unless the legislature approves new funding of at least this magnitude.
The bill also includes a “lock-box” type mechanism to prevent future diversions of transportation dollars to unrelated purposes (to avoid future raids), and a number of other provisions.
The bills would apply Maryland’s 6% sales tax to gasoline sales at the wholesale level, phased in over three years. The cost for the average household comes out to under $30 per year in the first year; about $55 the second; and about $85 when fully implemented. Even at the full price, it is a small price to pay for reducing the $2,300 the average motorist in our state is currently throwing away in wasted gas and added wear-and-tear from sitting in the nation’s worst congestion.
This week, House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) presented his outline for the new transportation bill that sets transportation policies for both highway and transit funding for the next six years.
From early reports, the new transportation funding bill will not contain sufficient funding to meet the needs that have been identified, especially in the nation’s heavily congested urban corridors (including the Nation’s Capital). This could mean a critical loss of funding for key projects in our region, including the Purple Line and CCT, as reported in Robert McCartney’s column in today’s Washington Post.
On the positive side, it eliminates Congressional earmarks, streamlines decision-making, and realigns priorities so that more transportation revenues from the federal gas tax and other sources will be put to work on the most effective transportation projects, without the kind of politically-inspired diversions to non-transportation purposes we’ve seen in the past.
The big question is, what will the Senate bill look like, and will it restore sufficient funding to keep key local projects on track? Transportation infrastructure investment in our nation and the DC region is at a historic low-point, just when our economy needs stimulus and job creation the most.
This is the first time in our history, when faced with a severe economic recession or depression, that we haven’t launched a major public works and infrastructure improvement program to help get us out of it. Last year’s stimulus package contained only a pittance, most of which did not go to transportation capacity improvements. Why not? That’s a question only our elected representatives can answer. Investing in infrastructure has worked every time in the past to provide long-term growth and economic recovery.
This time, we all know the need is there, but our political leaders in both parties have gone AWOL.
Washington Post columnist Robert Thompson’s column Maryland Drivers Face Many Mini-Challenges draws a pretty stark contrast between the levels of major investment in congestion relief taking place in Virginia compared to Maryland.
Northern Virginia is currently in construction on two multi-billion-dollar “mega projects” — the Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport and adding new lane capacity to their portion of the Capital Beltway (I-495) with additional high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes. Both are being funded with a mix of public and private capital. Additional capacity expansion projects are also either planned or starting construction in the I-95/395 corridor and the I-66 corridor, and construction is nearing completion on the last phase of the Wilson Bridge replacement project.
Maryland is building the ICC. That’s about it right now in terms of major capacity improvements at the regional level. The Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, the much needed widening of I-270 and portions of our side of the Capital Beltway and the American Legion Bridge all are under “study” but those studies keep dragging on and on with no sign of construction in the near term, and no moves yet to ensure that any of them can be funded.
What we are doing, as Thompson’s column makes clear, is a lot of minor resurfacing and repair projects throughout Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. These are important, make no mistake, but don’t confuse this list of “mini” projects with actual investments to relieve the chronic congestion that plagues our region. For that, just look to Virginia.
The Maryland Transportation Authority has given preliminary approval for the first significant hike in toll rates in decades. They are now in the process of receiving public input on the proposed rates before they go into effect October 1st.
Among other things, the new proposal would increase tolls on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from $2.50 to $5.00 this year (and to $8 in 2013). Tolls on Baltimore’s Harbor Tunnel, Fort McHenry Tunnel and the Key Bridge would go from $2 to $3 one-way.
The funding is needed to make up for decades of inflation since the last major increase, according to the Authority, and to restore the agencie’s ability to keep pace with maintenance, safety and repairs.
As of March 7th, the free ride on the ICC comes to an unfortunate end. The new toll rates are included in this fact sheet from the Maryland Transportation Authority, the agency now operating the InterCounty Connector. Also included is information on EZ-Pass, clearly something you’ll want to do if you plan to use the ICC regularly.
Much discussion has taken place in recent years about the pricing of the tolls, which is higher than many would like. While the rates are higher than many older toll facilities that long-ago paid off all their construction costs, if it is any comfort, they are in line with other new toll facilities in terms of the cost per mile. State officials are saying the adjustable rates on the ICC will be changed up or down depending on how many people are using it, in order to maximize revenue and divert as many motorists as possible off surrounding streets. We won’t really know the real impact until the whole facility is open, of course.
Though some continue to whine about the fact that there are tolls, I continue to see very little in the way of honesty or ownership regarding whose fault that really is. Some of the blame clearly lies at the feet of those who blocked the road for so many years — and the politicians who dared not cross them — despite the lack of any viable alternative. Had the ICC had been built when it was planned (around 1980), it would have saved Maryland taxpayers around $2 billion and would not have required ANY tolls. The big lesson here: Delay is expensive. Now we have to pay for it.
Transportation funding remains a key issue in Maryland this year. Tell your legislators to Invest Now!