Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Roads


Hogan shifted transit money to roads. Here's what he'll build

When Maryland governor Larry Hogan canceled Baltimore's Red Line and cut state funding from the Purple Line, he shifted over a billion dollars from transit to road construction. Here are the road projects he plans to build with that money.

All images from the State of Maryland.

On the map, blue lines and dots illustrate major highway projects. Red lines are smaller road projects, and green dots are bridge projects.

There are three major highway projects in the Washington region, on I-270, the Beltway, and Route 1. Most of the money is going to projects in other parts of the state.

I-270 in Montgomery

Montgomery County will get one big project: $100 million for "innovative congestion reduction" on I-270, between the Beltway and I-370.

That won't be a widening. It will be operational tweaks to squeeze more efficiency out of the pavement that's already there. MDOT will introduce things like ramp meters, bus-on-shoulder, and signals that let motorists drive on the shoulder at peak times.

Officials haven't determined the exact location or mix of projects yet, but all three of those strategies have helped Virginia squeeze more capacity out of I-66.

Two in Prince George's

Prince George's will get two big projects: $185 million to expand the Beltway interchange at Greenbelt Metro station, and $30 million to rebuild US-1 through downtown College Park.

Greenbelt (left) and College Park

The Greenbelt project will add new highway ramps, so drivers coming from northbound I-495 will be able to get to the Metro station, and so drivers leaving Metro will be able to reach southbound I-495. Those movements aren't possible today.

The College Park project will make US-1 a four-lane highway with a raised median, and add better bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. This is the same project this blog has advocated for over the past year, although it's not clear from Hogan's announcement what the final design will look like.

Most of the money goes elsewhere

Those three projects will most directly affect Washington-area drivers. Here are the biggest new projects elsewhere in the state:

Here's the complete list of major road projects statewide. In addition to new projects, the list also includes $645 million in "preserved" funding for projects for which MDOT had already budgeted.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Montgomery backtracks on a sprawl-inducing highway

After a decade-long process, it looked like Montgomery County was pushing ahead with a new highway through streams and wetlands at the edge of the county's built-up areas. But last week, county officials announced they don't support the road project after all.

Image from TAME.

In March, the county Department of Transportation issued a report recommending a new limited-access highway, around the edge of developed areas. The road, designated M-83, would approximately parallel I-270 and MD-355 but farther east, connecting the east side of Clarksburg to the current Midcounty Highway, Route 124.

This dismayed advocates who had been asking the county instead to study ways to better connect to Clarksburg with transit and fixes to local roads. Last week, DOT Acting Director Al Roshdieh put out a statement essentially repudiating the DOT's earlier recommendation:

The County Executive does not support building this road, he did not recommend the preferred alternative, nor was it an option that I as MCDOT acting director recommended. Further, there is no funding proposed for the project in the County's capital budget.

The study, "Draft Preferred Alternative/Conceptual Mitigation Report" (PA/CM) was conducted before the Route 355 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was in the master plan, and therefore it was not considered as one of the alternatives. If BRT is considered, I believe the results of the PA/CM study and its recommended alternative could be significantly different. I strongly endorse this reassessment.

During my three months as MCDOT Acting Director, I continue to look for ways to promote a broader view of mobility in Montgomery County that is not necessarily wedded to building more roads. Taking a fresh look at various M-83 options, including the Route 355 BRT, is an important step in my vision for this department.

The council pushes M-83 out of limbo

In 1964, before the Clean Water Act had passed, Montgomery planners drew a future highway on maps to the east of MD 355. The road ran through wetlands and stream valleys to complete a "ladder and rung" network of arterial roads that would facilitate development in upcounty Montgomery. Since then, Midcounty Highway, also known as M-83, has been the subject of battles for over 50 years.

In its most recent chapter, the Montgomery County Council asked the county DOT in 2004 to study whether the highway, with its impacts to wetlands and streams, would be legal under modern environmental laws. Last year, DOT officials said they would complete the study in March of 2014, but were then silent about their progress for the rest of the year.

On March 2nd, the council's Transportation and Environment Committee surprised MCDOT leadership by asking about the study. Members suggested that, if it was complete, it should go to federal regulators for a decision one way or the other. It appears that Council transportation staffer Glenn Orlin learned that the study had been finished for some time, and suggested that the committee ask for some resolution on the issue.

"If we're not going to build it, we should take it out of the master plan", he said in the committee session. "My understanding is that the report was done last summer and has not been sent to the feds. However you feel about the project, it's delaying a resolution."

Chair Roger Berliner said, "It's no secret I'm not a big fan of this project. I'm even less a fan of ambiguity and being in limbo." The committee members, while harboring different opinions about the project, all agreed that MCDOT should make the study public and send it to regulators. Berliner and fellow committee member Tom Hucker, along with a majority of council members, now publicly oppose to the project, while Nancy Floreen, the third member of the committee, supports it.

The county suggests a destructive option, then backs away

After getting the prod from the council, the DOT issued its report and recommended Alternative 9A, the original alignment from the 1960s master plan. At $350 million, it is the most expensive of the six alternatives analyzed, a price tag that doesn't include environmental mitigation to compensate for the wetlands, floodplains, and forests it would damage.

In contrast to his agency's position, County Executive Leggett has said he is against the road: shortly after the release of the study, a spokesperson for the County Executive told the Washington Post that Leggett "opposes the road project because of its cost."

Throughout the study, it has been clear that the those in charge were building up arguments towards 9A. But more recently, top leaders who were most focused on building roads have left. Their replacements are already backing away from the controversial project.

WTOP reporter Ari Ashe tweeted recently that MCDOT Acting Director Al Roshdieh told him he was against M-83, and that it was "over." After I mentioned the M-83 report in a list of cautionary notes about whether the DOT was really reforming, DOT spokesperson Esther Bowring called to say that Roshdieh considers the 9A option "dead."

"If we don't do this, we need to do something else"

During the March 2nd committee meeting, Councilmember Floreen said, "If we don't do this, we need to do something else." Many residents in Clarksburg rightly feel that the county made and broke many promises, including to build retail and provide good transportation. Development in Clarksburg was initially supposed to coincide with transit service, but the transit has not materialized.

However, this road is not the answer. It will only make new sprawl development, including up in Frederick and Carroll Counties, even more desirable, leading people to live there and work in Rockville, Bethesda, or DC, be dependent on cars, and clog the roads further for commuting and shopping.

The better solution for all upcounty residents is to build the transit that was promised in the first place. Berliner and many advocates have recommended building the study's Alternative 2, a package of small widenings to congested intersections as well as new sidewalks and bike paths, and Alternative 5, which would widen MD-355—but using the new lanes as dedicated lanes for BRT rather than new car capacity.

Left: Alternative 9. Right: Alternative 5.

Bowring said that county officials are meeting next week to discuss next steps to reexamine the county's recommendations and start moving toward, or at least seriously studying, the transit options that many residents are pushing for.

To fully put the idea of a new highway to rest, the county would have to remove it from the master plan. The decision to do that would be up to the county council, Berliner said, and the council could ask the planning department to be involved if it wished.

Unless something changes, the Army Corps of Engineers will go ahead and evaluate Alternative 9A. Some may be hoping the corps just tells Montgomery County it can't build the road; that would forestall a local political battle between those who still want a new highway and the majority of the county council that doesn't.

Either way, this 50-year battle is far from over.


Expand a highway to get a sidewalk? How about just build the sidewalk.

Maryland highway planners say four new interchanges on Route 29 in eastern Montgomery County will cut congestion, improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, and make it easier to build bus rapid transit. But the designs they've proposed would actually make all three of those things worse.

One of four proposed interchanges along Route 29 in Montgomery County, with north on the right side. Image from the Maryland State Highway Administration.

For decades, Maryland highway planners have been trying to turn Route 29 between New Hampshire Avenue in Montgomery County and I-70 in Howard County into a freeway. They recently unveiled new designs for a $128 million interchange at Route 29 and Fairland and Musgrove roads, just south of the Intercounty Connector. Today, both roads intersect Route 29, also known as Columbia Pike, at separate stoplights.

Under the state's proposal, Musgrove Road would become a dead end street on the west side of Route 29, while on-ramps and off-ramps would connect the east side of 29 to its northbound lanes. Fairland Road would go from four lanes to six and only have access to 29 going south.

If the project gets funding, construction could get underway in 2018.

Maryland has already built interchanges along Route 29 in Howard County and in Montgomery County at Cherry Hill Road, Briggs Chaney Road, and Route 198. In 2002, plans to build four more interchanges at Fairland and Musgrove roads, Stewart Lane, Tech Road, and Greencastle Road were put on hold and the focus shifted to the Intercounty Connector. In 2013, then-Governor Martin O'Malley revived the projects.

Better for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit?

Proponents of the Route 29 plan tout its benefits for people walking and riding bikes. They note that the plan includes a shared-use path along 29, new bike lanes on Fairland Road, and filled in sidewalk gaps on Musgrove Road.

Meanwhile, acting Montgomery County DOT head Al Roshdieh says building the interchanges planned for the 29 corridor are necessary for the bus rapid transit line the county wants to put in there.

But accommodating people on foot, bikes, and transit shouldn't be an excuse to build more highway interchanges that simply dump more cars on Maryland's roads. In fact, dumping more cars on the roads will only make traffic worse in the long term.

More roads mean more car traffic

The amount of driving on all of Montgomery County's state highways has remained steady for over 10 years even as the population has grown by 100,000 people. But even though Route 29 is one of those highways, its traffic has increased 10% since 2006.

A family tries to cross Route 29 in White Oak. Photo by the author.

Part of that is because of new development further north in Howard County, whose residents drive on 29 to jobs in Montgomery and DC. But it's also because of the three other interchanges that Route 29 gained over the last decade.

Research shows that building more roads in an effort to cut congestion is actually counterproductive. The roads eventually just fill with more cars as drivers use the new road space to drive more or longer distances than they used to.

Meanwhile, the interchange will create more congestion by taking away local connections. Today, drivers on Musgrove and Fairland can directly turn onto Route 29 to go either north or south. But with an interchange, everyone will have to go to Musgrove to go north on Route 29, or go to Fairland to head south, putting more traffic on both roads. Making Musgrove a dead-end on the west side of 29 also pushes more east-west trips onto Fairland or Cherry Hill Road.

Another interchange will simply make it easier to speed down Route 29 from points north. But there isn't any room to widen Route 29 or build more interchanges further south, meaning drivers will end up at the same existing bottlenecks in Four Corners, downtown Silver Spring, and in the District. Speeding people through the area also undermines Montgomery County's efforts to create town centers in White Oak and Burtonsville.

What should we do instead?

The bottom line is that if you want to reduce congestion on Route 29, you've got to get people out of their cars and on to something else. The current plan doesn't do that. So what's the alternative?

In Montgomery County's annual transportation priorities letter to state officials, county councilmembers ranked a bus rapid transit line on Route 29 as a higher priority than the interchanges on Route 29. This is a reversal from previous years.

County planners estimate that a BRT line on 29 between Silver Spring and Burtonsville would cost just $351 million, compared to $472 million for the four new interchanges proposed on Route 29.

BRT can be cheaper and way less disruptive than more interchanges. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Not only is transit cheaper than turning Route 29 into a highway, it is easier to build and ultimately more effective. We can fit bus lanes in the median of Route 29 north of New Hampshire Avenue without building any more interchanges or widening cross streets.

Transit gives drivers an alternative, meaning that car traffic along the corridor may grow much more slowly than it would otherwise. It allows both existing downtowns like Silver Spring and future town centers like White Oak to grow without putting as much pressure on already congested areas.

We don't need interchanges to make it safer for pedestrians or bicyclists either. Filling in sidewalk and bike lane gaps, creating more crosswalks at stoplights, and reducing the speed limit along Route 29 can improve safety without spending nearly as much money.

Route 29 doesn't need to become a freeway

Maryland completed its environmental study for Route 29 in 1995. Since then, the communities along Route 29, and Montgomery County as a whole, have changed.

County residents and companies alike want transit and walkable neighborhoods. Route 29 is now one of the region's busiest bus corridors. Meanwhile, East County neighborhoods are grappling with disinvestment as growth moves out to Howard County.

Turning Route 29 into a freeway might have made sense 20 years ago, but now it's time to reconsider. There are better, cheaper, less disruptive ways to get people where they're going.


How smart language helped end Seattle's paralyzing bikelash

Instead of "cyclists," people biking. Instead of "accident," collision. Instead of "cycle track," protected bike lane. It can come off as trivial word policing. But if you want proof that language shapes thoughts, look no further than Seattle—where one of the country's biggest bikelashes has turned decisively around in the last four years.

Broadway, Seattle. Image from People for Bikes.

For a while in 2010 and 2011, the three-word phrase "war on cars," which had risen to prominence in Rob Ford's Toronto and spread to Seattle in 2009, threatened to poison every conversation about improving bicycling in the city.

Eleven characters long and poetic in its simplicity, the phrase could pop easily into any headline or news spot about transportation changes.

"It's one of those ideas that makes a lot of sense if you don't think about it too hard," says Tom Fucoloro, publisher of Seattle Bike Blog. "Like, yeah, cars should get more lanes!"

For several years, instead of arguing about whether biking, walking or riding transit should be improved, the city was arguing about whether driving should be made worse. A winning issue had become a losing one.

Things got so bad that The Stranger, an altweekly Seattle newspaper that supports biking investments, declared in a not-quite-joking cover story: "Okay, Fine, It's War."

Today, the phrase seems to have receded from Seattle's public life. And now the pro-bike, pro-transit policies championed by former Mayor Mike McGinn and continued by his successor Ed Murray are bearing fruit.

The city has lined up one of the most ambitious protected bike lane building schedules in the country. A public bike sharing system launched last fall. Jobs and residential construction are booming along Seattle's new streetcar line. No major city in the country is growing faster.

This week, Seattle's KING-TV devoted three minutes to a triumphant catalog of the city's transportation accomplishments: falling congestion, rising bus frequencies, 20 miles of new bike lanes and paths this year.

Cathy Tuttle of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways on the Fremont Bridge in 2014. Image from People for Bikes.

Though there were many forces behind the turn of Seattle's tide—the "war on cars" phrase in particular faded after McGinn lost his reelection bid in 2013—no single organization has more to do with the city's new language than a tiny nonprofit group called Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

SNG was founded in 2011, the year the "war on cars" meme peaked. Their goal: to advocate for a citywide network of low-traffic local streets, modeled on similar systems in Vancouver and Portland, that could be optimized for biking, walking and running.

Though the group made no secret of their biking advocacy, they didn't brand themselves as biking advocates. They branded themselves as neighborhood advocates. Executive Director Cathy Tuttle, unable to manage every project citywide, deputized advocates around the city to speak as "Fremont Greenways," "Kirkland Greenways," and so on.

Together, the groups fought bad language with good language.

Instead of "bikers" or "cyclists," they said people biking; instead of "drivers" or "cars," they said people driving. "Cycle track," an engineering term translated from Dutch, became the more intuitive protected bike lane. Instead of "accident," which implied that conscious choices like speeding aren't involved in traffic collisions, the group simply called them collisions.

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways' cheat sheet for neighborhood advocates and city officials.

"When you start thinking of somebody as a 'driver' or somebody as a 'cyclist' or somebody as a 'pedestrian'—which is actually my least favorite—it's easy to think of someone as part of a tribe," said Fucoloro. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways broke down that tribalism by convincing advocates around the city to talk about "bicycling," an activity, rather than "bicyclists," an identity.

"It's harder to get really angry," Fucoloro said. "Just because you're riding a bike doesn't mean you're in epic opposition to everyone who's driving a car."

Jennifer Langston, a researcher for Seattle's Sightline Institute who has studied the greenways movement, said the shared language complemented Seattle Neighborhood Greenways' decentralized approach to advocacy.

"Each neighborhood group shares the same goals and can speak to the city with one voice when it comes to broad principles," Langston said. "But because each neighborhood group is so place-based, they can really zero in on what the main problems are in their part of the city. ... They have become a reasonable, strategic, and credible voice that has successfully counterbalanced and possibly begun to drown out the 'war on cars' arguments."

Graph from Green Lane Project inventory

A progressive city, back in motion

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways didn't invent these ideas, Fucoloro said; it watched them develop in Portland and elsewhere and imported them to Seattle. And the group hasn't been alone in its work. The much older and larger Cascade Bicycle Club has also shifted its language, as has the City of Seattle itself.

Fucoloro said that Cascade once tended to describe anything that improved bicycling as a "bicycle project," unintentionally implying that if you weren't a bike commuter, you wouldn't benefit.

"That didn't work as well as 'People are getting harmed on this street for no reason,'" Fucoloro said. "That's a much better story."

Fucoloro thinks Seattle is better, too, for having had this linguistic fight.

"In the end, I think the 'war on cars' is, like, this necessary step the city has to take," he said. "Because it's an obviously wrong idea, but it forces everyone who knows it's wrong to figure out how to say that and explain why it's wrong."

"There's so many awesome things about bicycles that a lot of people who support bicycling assume that it's obvious," Fucoloro went on. "But when you have to counter this 'war on cars' concept, you have to think about the reasons why bicycling is a smart policy choice. … So I think in a weird way it's like this bizarre frustrating test that when you come out of it, everyone's stronger and everyone understands it way better."

"Even though when you're in the middle of it, it's the most frustrating thing in the world," Fucoloro added.

This post originally appeared on the blog of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps US cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.


Australia has an enormous nationwide beltway

Washington's I-495 beltway is a 64 mile long loop. London's M-25 orbital motorway is 117 miles. They seem big, but they're practically microscopic next to the greatest ring road on Earth, Australia's 9,000-mile Highway 1.

Map from the Commonwealth of Australia.

In fact, Highway 1 is the longest single highway in the world. It's 32% longer than Russia's Trans-Siberian Highway, and almost three times longer than the longest US Interstate, I-90.

The Australian government created Highway 1 in 1955, by compiling a network of existing local and regional highways under a single banner.

Unlike American Interstates, Highway 1 isn't fully limited access for its entire length. Near big cities like Sydney or Melbourne it looks like an Interstate, but many sections in rural areas are simple two-lane roads, and some extremely isolated sections are even more basic.

All hail the king of ring roads.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Maryland's rural economy depends on its urban and suburban areas

Maryland's incoming Republican governor, Larry Hogan, says he wants to boost the state's economy by building roads instead of transit and focusing on the state's rural areas over urban ones. But starving urban areas of their needs will only bring the entire state down.

Rural Maryland depends on this, too. Photo by the author.

Ever since his election last month, Hogan has been noncommittal about the state's two biggest transit projects, the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Red Line in Baltimore. Maryland's transportation priorities are "out of whack," he told Post columnist Robert McCartney, adding, "Less than 10 percent of the people use mass transit. Most people in the state want the roads to be fixed."

That's an appeal to rural voters who elected Hogan based on a claim from him and his supporters that there's a "war on rural Maryland." But with the majority of Maryland's population and jobs, urban areas drive the state's economy, and public money spent there goes a lot farther than it does elsewhere.

The "war on rural Maryland"

Hogan's comments reflect the conflicting views rural Marylanders have of the state's urban and suburban areas, especially Montgomery, Prince George's, and Baltimore City, the three jurisdictions that voted for his opponent, Democrat Anthony Brown. On the one hand, rural counties depend on them. They go shopping at malls in Montgomery, send their kids to big state schools like College Park, or attend athletic events in Baltimore.

And it shows. Montgomery County alone had one out of every five jobs in Maryland in 2011, according to the Census Bureau. Add Prince George's and Baltimore City and you have 45% of the state's jobs. Add Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Howard counties, which voted for Hogan but are also urbanizing, and together they hold three-fourths of the state's jobs.

These areas are also leading the state's job growth. Of the 213,000 jobs added in Maryland between 2002 and 2011, 60% went to one of those six jurisdictions, and 28% went to Montgomery County. Montgomery County sends more in tax revenue to the state than it gets back because it's distributed to rural counties.

Yet rural lawmakers claim they're under attack from urban and suburban counties, with their liberal politics and diverse populations. Five counties in Western Maryland even tried to secede last year. Meanwhile, Carroll County won't allow its transit service to leave the county to keep out "criminals" from Montgomery.

Urban areas drive Maryland's economy

Larry Hogan is right about Maryland's transit use: statewide, just 8.8% of commuters use public transit, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. But that's because the state has built so many roads and so little rail transit. Just as you can't judge the demand for a bridge based on how many people are swimming across the river, you can't say we don't need transit because few people are using it.

Besides, 80% of Maryland's transit riders, or over 200,000 people, live in just three jurisdictions: Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. That's where most of the state's transit is, but they're also three of the state's biggest job centers.

There's a strong link between investing in transit and economic development. A study of over 300 metropolitan areas in the US found that expanding transit resulted in more employment and higher wages. It saves businesses and households money due to lower transportation costs, time savings, and increased access to jobs and employees. Overall, transit generates about $4 in economic returns for every $1 invested.

Low-density development costs more in taxes than it makes in revenue. Image from the Hogan Companies.

Meanwhile, low-density development, like the strip malls and subdivisions Larry Hogan's development firm builds, requires lots of new roads and utility lines that serve a relatively small number of people. The taxes it generates can't even cover the cost of building the infrastructure, let alone maintaining it. A Florida study found that even small buildings in urban neighborhoods can generate 10 times as much tax revenue per acre as a typical Walmart.

More importantly, there's a demonstrated demand for transit and urban places. That's why most office space in the DC area is going in next to Metro stations and rents are at a premium. It's why areas around Montgomery County's Metro stations are growing faster than the rest of the county. And it's why Virginia Republicans fought to build the Silver Line through Tysons Corner, which is attracting a ton of private investment.

It's not about urban vs. rural, but what's best for our economy

Improving Maryland's economic competitiveness is something everyone can agree on, regardless of political party or location. But if Larry Hogan says we need to spend public money more wisely, shouldn't our limited resources go to the places where we can get the most in return?

Over breakfast last week, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett reminded Hogan that the county was the state's economic engine and that he should respect their priorities, including transit. That's a message rural Maryland should hear. As long as it depends on urban and suburban counties for its economy, the only "war on rural Maryland" is when Republican lawmakers shoot the entire statewide economy in the foot by starving metropolitan areas.


How fast can you go? Map of maximum speed limits around the world

In most of the United States, the maximum speed limit is somewhere between 65 and 75 miles per hour. What about the rest of the world? This map tells you.

Maximum speed limits around the world. Map from Reddit user worldbeyondyourown.

In the eastern US, most states top out with maximum speed limits of 70 miles per hour. Out west, most states allow 75, and a handful go even higher than that.

Texas has the highest speed limit in the western hemisphere, at 85 miles per hour. On the other end of the spectrum, no road in Canada's province Nunavut has a limit above 45 miles per hour.

Germany's Autobahn famously has no maximum speed limit, but it's not the only place in the world to hold that distinction. Australia's Northern Territory is also speed limit free. But don't try racing down roads in Bhutan, where the maximum limit is no higher than 45.

What else jumps out?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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