How do you stop a problem like traffic congestion in one of the nation’s most gridlocked areas? The folks at the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) are trying to help commuters now and in the future by asking for the public’s feedback on solutions.
The government agency recently hosted a second round of public workshops to discuss the I-495 and I-270 Managed Lanes Study, which is looking at proposed improvements to two of the state’s busiest highways. Hosted in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the workshops outlined preliminary alternatives and screening criteria used to evaluate each option. An audio version of the workshop is also available on their website.
The environmental study, being conducted in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, looks at the full length of I-495 (about 42 miles) and 34 miles of I-270 beginning at I-70 in Frederick to I-495. MDOT SHA is looking for proposals from the private sector to enter into a Public-Private Partnership, also known as a P3.
Officials noted during the workshops they are considering a P3 because project risks may be shared, construction may move faster, operations and management could be done at a more economical cost and user fees generating roads may be built with limited or no government funding.
On average, congestion lasts for seven hours every day on I-270 and 10 hours each day on I-495 with most vehicles not exceeding 15 mph during heavy traffic times. The average annual daily traffic today on I-270 from I-370 to I-495 is 259,000 but that number is expected to balloon to just shy of 300,000 by 2040. I-495 from the Virginia state line to I-270 is currently 253,000 with 2040 estimates set to reach 282,000.
The study presented 15 alternatives with some applying to only one highway and others for both. They range from doing nothing to restriping within the existing pavement, adding a general purpose lane, providing a price managed lane network to combine congestion pricing and lane management, designing a contra flow lane separated by a moveable barrier running in the opposite direction during peak traffic and adding a reversible lane where direction flow may be changed to match peak direction travel.
Other alternatives include a heavy rail transit similar to MARC train to run parallel to the highway corridors, a light rail suggestion (potentially an extension of a new Metro line) or a fixed guideway bus rapid transit.
From March 16 to May 1, feedback was accepted with 620 comments recorded. Some expressed support for the study, specific recommendations and/or fixing local congestion. Others discussed their thoughts on tolls and partnership with the private sector. A portion were also concerned about the effects to the environment of the potential construction.
Another study looking at traffic in the northern part of I-270 from I-370 north to I-70 is set to take place next year.