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Votes

Council Preserves Two-Lane Policy

Two councilmembers voiced opposition to Potomac's two-lane road policy.

Six came to its defense. One was absent at the time.

Potomac's two-lane road policy passed the full Council, Tuesday, Feb. 5, which all but assures that the two-lane road policy will remain in effect for the 20-year life of the Potomac Master Plan, the blueprint for landuse in Potomac.

"The vision of the Plan is to preserve low density, a predominantly residential community and a semi-rural nature, which was not consistent with building a number of roadways. That was the strong recommendation of the advisory committee," said Derick Berlage (D-At large). "Nobody likes congestion, but 'preserving the environmental character is more important' is the message we heard."

That didn't ride well with Marilyn Praisner, who called an out-of-balance Master Plan, "a legal issue."

"I'm not aware of a County Council in the 1990s keeping a plan out of balance," said Marilyn Praisner (D-4). "We can make Potomac different from everybody else or make Potomac consistent."

The Potomac Master Plan acknowledges on page 105 that the planned transportation infrastructure is, indeed, out of balance: "The plan recognizes that given anticipated economic development, the transportation network in the Potomac Subregion will not be sufficient to meet current congestion standards," reads the plan.

But this wasn't something planners neglected to account for when developing the 2002 Potomac Master Plan.

"The 1980 plan was out of balance so this is not precedent setting. The community was willing to accept this," said Arthur Holmes Jr., chairman of the Planning Board.

<mh>Out of the Way

<bt>While some said exempting Potomac from increasing roadway was unfair to the region, traffic studies demonstrated that the congestion faced in Potomac basically inconveniences only itself.

"We can leave the two-lane road policy in place without affecting regional traffic," said Dan Hardy, transportation director with Park and Planning. "It is difficult to conceive of a trip that begins outside of the region and ends up outside."

He said that the shortest trip for people outside Potomac is on I-270.

Councilmember Nancy Dacek agreed, saying that "Potomac is not a destination place … Not many people are coming to jobs in Potomac. People who use Potomac [roads to commute] are those in Poolesville going south. Everybody else is more east-west focused going to Rt. 28 or on I-270."

The Plan does call for study of intersection improvements at River and Bradley Boulevard and River and Piney Meetinghouse roads, as well as several others.

<mh>Pushing Four

<bt>Last December, county executive Doug Duncan recommended that the Master Plan call for widening River, Falls and Piney Meetinghouse roads to four lanes.

Council staff rejected this proposal because projections showed it would increase traffic coming through Potomac. But council staff recommended widening of River Road from Potomac Village to the beltway, portions of Seven Locks and Montrose roads to four lanes would create the necessary infrastructure to improve congestion in Potomac.

"This set of improvements brings the area into balance," said Glenn Orlin, deputy council staff director. "The only road receiving more traffic is River Road because it is drawing more traffic to it."

<mh>'Will Come Back

To Haunt Us'

<bt>An out-of-balance plan undermines safety, said Isiah "Ike" Leggett.

"I don't agree with Glenn or the county executive proposal [on road widening] because I think they go too far, but I do believe in the spirit of what they are talking about," said Leggett. He recommended the widening only of River Road to four lanes, an option he said wasn't presented to citizens during the planning process. Leggett said River Road could be widened to four lanes, engineered and designed in a way that maintains and even enhances the rural character of the region.

"Not to make any type of suggestion other than a few interchange improvements is shortsighted and sets a precedent that will come back to haunt us," said Leggett, who voted against the recommendation to preserve all of Potomac's two-lane road policy.

Praisner said that inclusion of a recommendation to widen a roadway in a Master Plan doesn't ensure that such a roadway will be built, rather it creates a plan in balance and says capacity exists for more development.

"There is a great deal of flexibility on how to design the road and there is nothing to say that any road will be funded and built. At the end of the Master Plan, we may still come back, whoever is here, and not have these roads built," said Praisner. "They [the citizens] may think they are protecting themselves, but they are buying a lesser standard."

While Dacek also agreed that a four-lane River Road could be "very nicely built," she said there are a number of small cull de sac roads which feed into River Road and those residents would have a hard time crossing two or three lanes of traffic to turn left.

"It is true that there is going to be traffic congestion in Potomac. … It is absolutely true that the citizens advisory committee worked on this very hard and came up with firm belief that the two-lane road policy should remain," said Dacek.

The two-lane road policy does not prohibit the construction of localized intersection improvements, such as turn or auxiliary lanes, like those at Falls and River in the Village.