The 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, an annual study performed by INRIX and Texas A&M Transportation Institute, put D.C. at the top of its list of gridlocked cities with Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and San Jose rounding out the top five.
In an effort to combat these steadily rising numbers, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the $100 million I-270 Congestion Relief Project targeting 14 bottlenecks and adding 23 new lane miles set to accommodate the estimated 79,000 to 261,000 vehicles the 34-mile roadway hosts daily. The design phase will end soon with construction set to begin in fall.
“I’m glad to see (a plan) going forward,” said Gaithersburg City Councilmember Neil Harris who is also a board member for Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board. “I am optimistic that it will provide some improvement but there is still a lot more work that needs to be done to actually make things passable during rush hour. … We were glad to see $100 million devoted to it. That sounds like a lot of money but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the investment in infrastructure that is needed to make things better in terms of transportation.”
Harris believes the new project will make some spot improvements. “The last time the road (270) was really addressed was back in 1990 when a significant number of lanes were added, when the local lanes were first built,” he said. “After that project was completed, traffic actually moved pretty well. In the intervening time, literally hundreds of thousands of people have moved into the 270 corridor. … So, we can’t expect that this measure alone is going to be enough to get things moving to a significant degree. It will help a little bit.”
Shortly after Hogan’s announcement, all nine members of the Montgomery County Council sent a letter to the governor and Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn requesting additional information such as the study findings that led to the new project including how much travel time will be saved in each segment of the road.
Action Committee for Transit (ACT) Board member Miriam Schoenbaum doesn’t believe the project is innovative enough. “The state transportation policy really needs to focus on moving people rather than cars,” she said. “The question shouldn’t be ‘How can you fit more cars on 270?’ It should be ‘How can we better move people in the whole corridor?’”
ACT is more in favor of putting the $100 million into upgrades for the MARC train service including adding more trains, equipment and elongating the train platform at Point of Rocks. They believe this plan would move as many people during peak times as an additional lane on I-270.
The $130 million Watkins Mill Interchange is also moving forward with bids going out and construction estimated to start in the next few months. Harris said the city is looking at the construction as a way to relieve local congestion on the streets that lead into 270.
“We have been working with state highway and they have been very careful to make sure that the work that is being done on the Watkins Mill Interchange will make things better on 270 and coordinating (the interchange) with this other (270) project,” Harris said.