Sixteen leaders from government and business in Montgomery and Frederick counties accepted an invitation from Congressman John Delaney (D-6) Dec. 18 to discuss strategies to resolve transportation problems and improve the economic health of people living in the I-270 corridor. The meeting was held at the offices of the Frederick Chamber of Commerce.
“The I-270 corridor is one of the key economic engines for Maryland and one of the fastest growing areas in the state. At all levels of government, we have to make sure that transportation and infrastructure needs are being met,” Delaney said, following the one-hour session. “Clearly, for thousands of Marylanders, the daily commute is horrendous.”
The group discussed the many problems stemming from the inability of I-270 to adequately move traffic, as well as a variety of transportation initiatives, including spot intersection and other improvements, a “Bus on Shoulders” program, Virginia’s private investment/high occupancy lanes program and the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), currently in development to address the growing need.
Attendees, among them, State Senator Roger Manno (D-Dist. 19 Montgomery), Sen. Ron Young (D-Dist. 3 Frederick) and Senator-elect Michael Hough (R-Dist. 4 Frederick) also discussed funding mechanisms, the availability of private capital, and the current federal, state and local economic outlook and its impact on government funding availability (lessened)—as well as the need to improve the availability of private capital. They talked about developing employment centers at more points on the I-270 corridor, finding ways to increase the number of people who are able to work from home, and the critical importance of long-term strategic planning for both transportation and to protect the environment.
At the session’s end, most participants seemed to agree with Delaney that the exercise had resulted in a “productive conversation” on an issue of extreme importance to the region.
Delaney said that the group consensus was also that it is important to “embrace more innovative and creative solutions in solving the problems—and to get a sense of urgency behind solutions.” He added that the time had come to stop studying the problems and to act instead.
“The cost of doing nothing, is not nothing,” he quipped.
Delegate Aruna Miller (D-15, N. Montgomery County) said the problems with I-270 have been studied since 1994, but that little substantive work has happened to change things for the better in the intervening two decades. Miller said finding solutions is critical to the development of the planned Life Sciences Center (in Gaithersburg/Rockville).
“Many people believe transportation is just about road and infrastructure improvement. It isn’t. It’s about investing in our people. It is about investing in our economy and the future economy of Maryland—and about our environment.
“Maryland residents want to have choices, and not just about building highways. We need highways, transit, pedestrians, bicycle facilities—we need a comprehensive look at how we move people in the state of Maryland.
“Of course the I-270 tech corridor is a huge economic hub for the state. In Montgomery County, the Life Sciences Center (is) expected to generate 100,000 high-paying jobs, over $13 billion annually in goods and services, and annually, over $322 million in state taxes revenues once it is built.
“How it is going to be built has a lot to do with (what happens on) the I-270 technology corridor.”
Miller noted that three major transportation projects in the state competing for transit funding have been the Red and Purple Lines and the CCT.
“But honestly I think the CCT is going to be the number one priority for the state of Maryland, because it is going to generate the greatest amount of economic opportunity.”
Delaney agreed with Miller on the importance of the CCT. “Having looked at the Purple Line and the Red Line and the CCT—by any measure, if you are making this decision in a ruthless, bottom-line orientation, the CCT is the best investment the state could make in terms of impact on long-term development.”
Delaney agreed with participants who spoke of adding lanes to I-270. “Rarely have I seen a highway system that goes from six, seven and almost eight lanes down to two in as short a period of time as I-270 does. Definitionally, it’s a huge bottleneck.”
The group seemed to support the Bus on (I-270) Shoulders proposal championed by Delegate-elect Carol Krimm (D-Dist. 3A Frederick City), who is also the co-chair, Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Bus on Shoulders Task Force.
“I believe we should have bus commuting lanes,” said Delaney. “Every other city I’ve visited—New York, Chicago, San Francisco—they all have this.”
It would appear that the Dec. 18 meet-up at the Frederick Chamber of Commerce offices might be just the beginning of a multi-county push to address the 270 conundrum.
Delegate-elect Krimm ended the meeting with a suggestion that the group continue to meet during the upcoming legislative session. “There are a lot of delegates and senators here,” she said. “We can continue to meet during the General Assembly session … in Annapolis. We can have an I-270 workgroup that meets regularly—and bring as many people as we can.”
Krimm asked Delaney to send a representative from his office. The congressman replied, “I’ll be happy to come (myself).”
Other participants in the Dec. 18 meeting included Elizabeth Cromwell, president, Frederick Chamber of Commerce; Marilyn Balcombe, president/CEO, Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce; Ilaya Hopkins, vice president, Montgomery County Chamber; City of Frederick Alderman Josh Bokee (also representing the board of both the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce); Jim Racheff, chairman and CEO of DMS, Inc. and also the principal manager for the National Institute of Health at Frederick and the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research; Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner; Delegate Kelly Schulz (R-Dist. 4A, Frederick and Carroll Counties); Delegate-elect Karen Young (D-Dist. 3A, City of Frederick); and Delegate-elect David Vogt (R-Dist. 4, Frederick and Carroll counties).