SILVER SPRING – With the proposed widening of Routes I-495 and I-270, an emphasis on eliminating pedestrian deaths and the coming of the Purple Line light rail highlighted transportation issues during 2019.
Because of congestion along the major Interstates 495 and 270, the state came out with a plan in 2018 that included 19 alternatives. But since then, the plans have been whittled down and mostly involve managed lanes and tolls – or what opponents have dubbed “Lexus Lanes” – with no additional public transportation.
The proposed $11 billion P3 partnership project would include 70 miles of road and not involve taxpayer money, according to state highway officials. Depending on which plan is adopted, some homes and businesses would be bought up by the state to allow for the road widening.
The project seemed to hit a roadblock recently when Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (who sits on the three-member Board of Public Works) (BPW), announced he could not endorse the plan if it did not have local support.
Brad German, chairman of Citizens Against Beltway Expansion, said he believed “there has been a major shift in the debate, at least in the tone of the debate.”
In June, the BPW voted to advance the project, but in December, Franchot expressing concerns stating he has “serious, unanswered, questions.”
“I would say there is a reset going on. How far that extends into rethinking the project, we will see,” the Bethesda resident said.
Members of Citizens Against Beltway Construction favor increasing public transportation and believe that the toll lanes and road widening will only create more traffic in a few years.
But Emmet Tydings, chairman of Citizens 4 Traffic Relief, believes the state plan is a good one and would relieve congestion and “jumpstart revitalization of Montgomery County’s economy,”
Tydings said he believed 70% of county residents favor the plan. He predicted that if it did not come to fruition, the county would become a bedroom community with residents commuting to Northern Virginia to work, “which would be a shame.”
Meanwhile, in November, the governors of Maryland and Virginia announced they would work together to create a unified Capital Beltway and replace the American Legion Bridge.
Besides road widening, the county continued its campaign to reduce traffic deaths.
Vision Zero, the county’s action plan to achieve the goal of zero severe and fatal collisions by 2030, includes education and changes to road speeds and traffic lights.
During 2019, 14 people were killed, and nearly 600 accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists occurred on country roadways. There also were 31 fatal car crashes; it was disclosed during a standing room only Vision Zero Town Hall on Dec. 14.
The Veirs Mill Corridor Master Plan, unanimously passed by county council in April, is one tool and was designed to increase safety along that stretch of road.
This fall, the Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously approved a proposal to create the country’s first Pedestrian Master Plans. The plan includes design standards and infrastructure work to improve pedestrian safety.
In another safety-first initiative, Downtown Silver Spring became the first location on the East Coast to receive a protected intersection, which is designed to make four-way road crossing safer for pedestrians. The intersection is at the corner of Spring Street and Second Avenue.
The county also is taking a step toward Vision Zero with the addition of Highly-Intensified Activated Crosswalk (HAWK) beacons, including one between Georgia and Connecticut avenues in Aspen Hill.
A HAWK beacon is a traffic control device used to stop motor traffic from allowing pedestrians to cross the street safely.
Also, during 2019, Metro users suffered through various closures, early closings, and single-tracking but had one reason to celebrate – the end of turn backs on the Red Line.
All Red Line trains now continue past Silver Spring and run to the end of the line in Glenmont. Earlier in the year, turnbacks also were eliminated at the other end of the Red Line as trains continued past Grosvenor all the way to Shady Grove.
In other public transportation matters, most members of the county council spent one week in June forgoing car use and only taking public transportation called “The Transit Challenge.”
The exercise was organized by the Action Committee for Transit and was designed to educate the officials about transit issues in the county.
Meanwhile, work on the Purple Line continued, although it is behind schedule. The 16.2-mile light rail project will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.
This fall, Maryland transportation officials nixed plans to fund additional bus transportation that would have connected upcounty with the more populated areas closer to the District. The Corridor Cities Transitway had been in the works for the past decade.
In other transportation news, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission launched a six-month pilot program in June to allow electric bicycles and electric scooters on its hard surface park trails.
In a national-first, Takoma Park became home to the first fully electric vehicle charging station, and young people under the age of 18 now can use the Ride-on Bus and some Metro buses for free.