Transportation Planning Board Moves Forward with Potomac Bridge Study

American Legion Bridge with traffic

Traffic on the American Legion Bridge.

Consultants for the Transportation Planning Board will study a northern Potomac River crossing over the objections of some of the board’s Montgomery County members. The county officially has opposed a new span for years.

“We are not dictating to jurisdictions what they must do,” said Bridget Donnell Newton, the Rockville mayor who serves at the TPB’s chair.

The study, which should be complete by November or December, is not meant to be an in-depth analysis of constructing a new bridge, Newton said. She called it a “sketch analysis” to see if the project merits more work.

The board — a body that considers transportation projects across Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia — passed a resolution approving analysis of the bridge and nine other projects, projects that had been winnowed down from 80 proposals.

The TPB considered a package of 10 projects, which included:

  • Express toll lanes on the Capital Beltway, I-270, U.S. 50, the Dulles Toll Road and the American Legion Bridge;
  • Bus rapid transit throughout Maryland, D.C. and Virginia;
  • Metro extensions, including Red Line stations north of Shady Grove and Purple Line extensions to Tysons.

TPB member Marc Elrich, the Montgomery County Council member, proposed moving forward with nine projects, excluding the bridge study. The board shot down the proposal. Newton and TPB member Neil Harris, a Gaithersburg City Council member, voted against removing the bridge.

Newton said traffic has grown exponentially and it hasn’t been managed by the region’s current transportation infrastructure. Consequently, she said, it’s up to the regional planning board to find projects that would make a measureable difference.

Harris said he wanted solid data on the bridge project.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if a bridge is a good idea, but it’s worth quantifiable analysis, as opposed to political expediency,” Harris said.

If the opponents to the bridge are right, the analysis will bear that out, he said.

Council President Roger Berliner, who opposes the bridge, said it would never happen.

“To spend a nanosecond is such a diversion,” he said. A better solution would be to spend that time on widening the American Legion Bridge and making I-270 wider.

Berliner said he could entertain another bridge, but only after bridge and interstate projects are completed.

Harris however pointed out that accidents on the bridge and I-270 jam traffic because there are no alternatives. A northern bridge would be another way to get across the river.

“The issues people are having even with the concept are solvable,” he said.

The TPB study will not look at the bridge’s costs. Harris said there was no sense looking for money for something you don’t know will be worthwhile.

Here is Berliner’s statement to the TPB:

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Douglas Tallman

About Douglas Tallman

Reporter with 35 years experience throughout Maryland. Reach me at dtallman@mymcmedia.org or via Twitter at @MCM-Doug

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