Reignited talk about a possible new bridge over the Potomac was the last thing politicians in Montgomery County wanted to hear.
But with or without the blessing of politicians in the County, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board voted Wednesday to study the viability of another bridge, along with other regional transportation projects. The planning board for the regional body is debating whether to specifically analyze a “northern bridge crossing” over the Potomac River.
While politicians in Northern Virginia support the idea of building another bridge over the Potomac River to alleviate traffic congestion on the American Legion Bridge, the reignited debate has rankled elected leaders in Montgomery County.
On Tuesday, the County Council unanimously approved a resolution to opposing further study of the bridge. The vote served as an opportunity for most of the County Council to take turns trashing the idea of study.
Council President Roger Berliner (D-1), who brought the issue up during his press conference last week referred to proposed crossing as a “zombie bridge,” stating Tuesday the region should focus instead on expanding the American Legion Bridge.
“That’s a real solution, that’s something that can happen,” Berliner said of a proposal to expand the American Legion Bridge. “This will never happen and it shouldn’t happen.”
While the Council members are unanimous in their opposition to the bridge, some people in the County favor the crossing as a way to relieve traffic congestion. Bob Buchanan, chair of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation Executive Committee, said he favors another bridge. Buchanan said local companies are having trouble recruiting and retaining talent in part because of the County’s issues with traffic and that bridge is one way the County can improve its congestion problems.
“We really have to address what it takes to attract and retain talent,” Buchanan said.
The main conduit to Northern Virginia for the County is the America Legion Bridge. But given the traffic on I-495 and that the bridge is the only option over the Potomac for commuters travelling to Fairfax or Loudoun counties, the American Legion Bridge is often packed during rush hours.
The next bridge north on the Potomac is at Point of Rocks in Frederick County.
Council member Marc Elrich (D-at large) said he preferred the region focus instead on other transportation issues.
“I think this Council and I think most people familiar with Montgomery County Transportation problems view the widening of the American Legion Bridge as the game changer, the beginning of the bottleneck that then pursues itself all the way up I-270,” Elrich said.
Buchanan said the region should not have to choose between its current bridge and a new one.
“It’s not one or the other it’s both a new river cross and repairing the American legion Bridge,” he said. The bridge would likely connect the devolved areas of Loudoun County such as Leesburg or Ashburn to Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve in the Northwestern portion of the County. Opponents of the bridge worry that it would create sprawl and environmental damage the Agricultural Reserve.