On Tuesday, Montgomery Council can avoid "ICC 2.0"
Montgomery County debated the Intercounty Connector for decades. Just as construction began, rising gas prices meant fewer people were driving, the economic crash bankrupted the State of Maryland, protecting our environment became even more urgent, and new research demonstrated the health hazards of freeways, which get worse the larger the road becomes. Today, most County residents know that if we knew what we know today, we'd have dedicated our resources to other transportation priorities like the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, MARC, and rapid buses.
On Tuesday, the County Council has the opportunity to make the very same mistake again, or to choose a different path. They will vote on whether to recommend widening I-270 to 12 or even 14 lanes between Rockville and Clarksburg, and adding two new lanes from Clarksburg to the County line. This whole mess would cost almost $4 billion, and plunge the region into yet another very expensive mistake.
Adding vehicle capacity will drive even more auto-dependent housing sprawl in Germantown, Clarksburg, and Frederick County. The last time we widened I-270, the new capacity filled right up, 11 years ahead of when planners predicted. That's because they didn't account for "induced demand," where widening a road encourages people to live even farther from their jobs, and before long, the road is as crowded as before. The engineers pushing this concept are ready to make the same mistakes they did in the 1980s.
Sprawl farther and farther from our region's jobs and existing infrastructure will put pressure on the Agricultural Reserve, the County's bold and very successful 1980 plan to preserve much of the rural, agricultural land at the County's edge. It'll also fuel sprawl in Frederick County, which will push housing even farther out and create more traffic and pollution inside Montgomery County without the benefits. One-third of our emissions come from transportation, and this project would add more cars and harm our air quality by making people drive farther and farther.
There's a better way to spend $4 billion. Improve MARC to add all-day, two-way service to Frederick and Harper's Ferry. Build a light rail link from Rockville or Shady Grove to downtown Gaithersburg, Germantown and Clarksburg. Make Route 355 a walkable, urban boulevard from White Flint to Rockville and Gaithersburg. Study congestion pricing on the existing lanes to keep traffic moving, instead of building new ones.
None of these options were part of the Maryland State Highway Administration's study of 270, because their toolbox consists entirely of adding lanes, adding HOV lanes, and adding HOT lanes. If you live, work, shop or drive in Montgomery County, please ask the County Council to reject any new lanes and insist that the State of Maryland evaluate other, better options for moving people in the 270 corridor and improving the lives of people along 270 and across Montgomery County.
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