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Votes

$1 Billion, 10 Years, 2nd Crossing

July 9, 2002

Like a “bridge over troubled water,” the issue of a Potomac River Crossing has risen to the surface again.

County Executive Doug Duncan testified before County Council on Tuesday, July 9 seeking support for his $1 billion, 10-year transportation proposal, Go Montgomery.

“There are perhaps only five elements in the Executive’s initiative for which there is currently disagreement,” according to Glenn Orlin, deputy council staff director.

But one of those could have a major impact on Potomac: Duncan’s proposal includes $400,000 for a study of a new Potomac River Crossing.

Councilmember Nancy Dacek (R-2) asked Duncan to clarify his position on the bridge.

“I stand where I stood before; we all agreed there should be a study,” Duncan said. “We need to go back and finish that study.”

Dacek expressed a different view: “I certainly wasn’t disappointed when they cancelled that study. … I can think of a number of issues we can spend that money on.”

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) halted a $2 million Federal study to determine the feasibility of a new Potomac River crossing last May. Wolf said aerial photos and initial sketches by engineers proved there was no place to build such a bridge connecting Northern Virginia to Montgomery County without destroying hundreds of homes.

GO MONTGOMERY, as Duncan has named his initiative, is intended to address widespread frustration with worsening traffic congestion.

“It’s horrible now and it’s getting worse and will continue to get worse,” Duncan told the Council. “We have not built the transportation infrastructure that has been promised to the people in this county.

Duncan’s plan also calls for the InterCounty Connector (ICC), Metro Purple Line from Tyson’s Corner through Rock Spring in Bethesda to the University of Maryland and New Carrollton, a Regional Transportation Authority and carpool lanes on the Beltway.

The plan includes a variety of specific and general proposals, among them the widening of Wootton Parkway from Falls Road to Glen Mill Road. Go Montgomery as outlined by Duncan would devote 47 percent of the $1 billion in new spending to transit, 43 percent to roads, and 10 percent to hiker-biker trails and pedestrian and traffic safety.

Duncan proposes to raise $1 billion by increasing the property tax by 3 cents, increasing the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon, instituting a $25 annual vehicle registration fee and tapping funds from the new development impact fees. He also says he will press the state into providing another $8 billion in funding for road and transit projects. His proposal would significantly improve the outlook in 2015, Duncan said.

But a council staff member warned that no one should expect this or any of the other transportation proposals to actually fix traffic congestion. “[Go Montgomery] is a significant program, but it won’t make things better … Things will still get worse; they just won’t get worse nearly as fast,” said Orlin.

After Duncan’s presentation, Council President Steve Silverman (D-at large) asked for immediately clarification about Duncan’s intentions on the Potomac River Crossing.

“There is so much confusion about what this piece is,” said Silverman. “Right now when I go out there and I talk to people, they see this as the county executive supporting a second crossing. We need something more definitive.”

County Council has expressed unanimous opposition to a new Potomac River Crossing, and the just-approved Potomac Master Plan specifically opposes it.

Jeff Zyontz of Planning Board staff predicted that the study will show the bridge would be used —and that is part of the problem.

“The second crossing will get a lot of use and a lot of traffic where you don’t want it,” Zyontz said. “It’s a problem for that area, increasing accessibility exactly where you don’t want to increase accessibility based on existing master plans.”

Silverman directed council staff to huddle with planning board and county executive staff to outline issues and proposals on the bridge study and what it could mean.

The Council will address Go Montgomery and other issues pertaining to the Transportation Policy Report during worksessions scheduled for July 16 and July 23.