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Votes

Crossing the Techway Again

July 23, 2002

Another study of a potential Potomac River crossing is one item of County Executive Doug Duncan's Go Montgomery initiative that councilmember Howard Denis and other members of the Council want to stop.

"Seeing the Frank Wolf letter brought it all back to me. This has been a bone in my throat ever since he sent his letter [requesting Congress' authorization of a $2 million congestion mitigation study]," said Denis, during a July 23 Council worksession on Go Montgomery, the Transportation Policy Report and transportation priorities for Montgomery County.

Duncan’s plan, dubbed Go Montgomery, calls for $10 billion of new transportation projects, including the InterCounty Connector (ICC); Metro Purple Line from Tysons Corner through Rock Spring in Bethesda to the University of Maryland and New Carrollton; a Regional Transportation Authority and widening the Beltway to add a lane for carpools and busses. The $1 billion in county spending would be financed with tax increases, including adding three cents to the property tax rate and a 10-cent-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax.

While many council members support much of Duncan’s proposals, his call to spend $400,000 to study a new Potomac River crossing met with opposition from County Council.

"Why should we put up $400,000 to match the State of Virginia? That is a vestige of the study that no longer exists. I don't see any reason for us to do this. That's all," said Denis, who does support many other items in Duncan's 10-year, $10 billion proposal to address congestion in the County.

Council president Steven Silverman agreed during Tuesday's worksession.

"With respect to the feasibility study of a second crossing of the Potomac, I do not propose that the Council express support for such a study," wrote Silverman to his colleagues, who have voiced unanimous opposition to a Techway in the past.

But rejection of such a study is analogous to closing their eyes to the county's long-term interests, said Edgar Gonzalez, of the Department of Public Works and Transportation and a member of the Transportation Policy task force which offered its own set of transportation recommendations to the Planning Board and Council.

"Closing our eyes to looking at possibilities is not in the long range interest of the County," said Gonzalez. "Closing our eyes to all possibilities is short-sighted. We all support regionalism until we talk about specific projects."

Councilmembers are expected to vote on the potential Potomac River Crossing study as well as other items in Duncan's plan on Tuesday, July 30 before its recess during August.

U.S. REP. FRANK WOLF (R-Va.) canceled his own initiated $2 million Federal study in May of 2001 after preliminary results showed possible routes passing through established neighborhoods, requiring the possible demolition of hundreds of homes.

"I have come to the conclusion that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to build a new bridge without negatively impacting established neighborhoods or cutting through parkland.

"I thought perhaps there was still enough open space on both sides of the river that a new bridge could be built to help relieve traffic congestion in the region, and link the burgeoning high-tech community in the Dulles Corridor with the bio-tech community in the I-270 Corridor. But according to a preliminary analysis by the Federal Highway Administration — the independent body conducting the study — that does not appear to be the case," wrote Wolf, when he canceled his study on May 24, 2001.

In April, 2002, U.S. Reps Tom Davis (R-11) and Jim Moran (D-8) asked Va. Gov. Mark Warner to spend $400,000 in Virginia Department of Transportation funds to study traffic on the two existing bridges across the Potomac River linking Maryland with Virginia. Although the Virginia General Assembly set money aside for such a study, it is not currently being used at this time.

THE COUNCIL HAS SPENT portions of the last three full-Council worksessions discussing transportation priorities for Montgomery County. Councilmembers are expected to vote on Duncan's Go Montgomery plan on Tuesday, July 30.

Duncan presented his vision of Go Montgomery before the Council on July 9. Part of his package includes the request for $400,000 to be devoted to a study of a Potomac River Crossing.

"At his presentation in front of the Council, the executive stated that the money for the study (about $400,000) would be for matching the State of Virginia's money to conduct a study similar, but smaller in scope, to the one the Council already approved when the Wolf study was proposed," wrote County Executive staff to the Council, after Silverman requested clarification of what Duncan intends from such a study.

Councilmember Nancy Dacek said that the Council voiced unanimous opposition to a second crossing.

"We have never supported a crossing," said Dacek.