Montgomery County Politicians Are Determined to Keep You Stuck in Traffic
This past Sunday a meeting organized by Montgomery County’s pro-gridlock Council Member Tom Hucker was held to protest Governor Hogan’s traffic relief initiatives. The crowd was estimated by the Washington Post at over 800 people. [i]
According to the Post, the speakers claimed: “the state had given short shrift to the idea of relieving traffic by expanding mass transit, such as by running MARC commuter trains all day.”
Inquiring minds may well wonder whether the meeting speakers were suffering from some form of mass amnesia about the multi-billion dollar Purple Line, currently being built by the state through a private-public partnership.
Complaints that more money should be spent on public transportation neglect the fact that nearly half of Maryland’s transportation spending goes for mass transit, although cars account for approximately 97% of all travel. Mass transportation zealots try to rationalize this imbalance to motorists by promising that travelers will be diverted away from the roads to transit. However, despite decades of spending, the promised travel “diversion” to public transit has never materialized.
Instead, Maryland mass transit’s increase of 52,000 daily commuters has been more than offset by a 62,000 loss in carpool commuters. According to U.S. Census data between 1990 and 2008, 93 percent (400,000) of all additional, new commutes involved single-occupant automobiles. As a result, mass transit’s market share for commuting has declined.
At root, mass transit simply does a very poor job connecting Maryland residents with the region’s job centers. Getting to Tysons Corner Virginia is a case in point. Tyson’s is the 12th largest employment center in the entire country, with 115,000 office and retail workers.
It is a distance of 15.2 miles, about 19 minutes when traffic is running smoothly by car from Kensington, Maryland. According to Google Maps, the same trip by public transit requires a trip into Washington DC and 1 hour, 39 minutes. As congested as the Beltway is already, even at a snail’s pace of 10 miles an hour, highway remains the faster way to go.
Also high on Sunday’s pro-gridlock crowd’s objections is that: “Maps show that up to 34 homes and four businesses could be destroyed.”
The operative word is “could.” The more specific private-partnership plan has not been presented and is operating under a mandate to keep within the existing highway right-of-way. Just has been the case with other HOT projects, this could be accomplished with the selective use of elevated flyover lanes.
Curiously, though, the same pro-gridlock crowd never complained about the Purple Line’s $230 million budget for right-of-way property acquisition. Nor have property acquisition costs for other Montgomery County transportation projects raised the same hackles. For example, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project has a $125 million price tag for land purchases.[ii]
Governor Larry Hogan has proposed adding four new lanes to I-270, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295), as part of a $9 billion “Traffic Relief Plan.” The Hogan approach involves using private funds to finance the expansion, through a “Public-Private Partnership (P3P).” The P3P would use private developers to design, build, finance, operate and maintain these new express lanes.
To be sure, the Hogan approach involves tolls to pay for the improvements. However, these are entirely voluntary tolls that only apply when a driver uses an express lane. This gives drivers the option to choose to pay for faster travel, essentially when a driver’s personal “time is money” calculation warrants their doing so. Non-express lane users also benefit from the additional road capacity and the diverted traffic. These express lanes have already been deployed extensively in Virginia and north of Baltimore on I-95.
Governor Hogan’s “Traffic Relief Plan” repeals the state’s onerous “Congestion Tax” and restoring quality of life for countless Marylanders who have been stuck in traffic.