I-270 Widening Should Not Be in the Constrained Long-Range Plan
Testimony to the Metropolitan Washington Transportation Planning Board
November 14, 2010
The Action Committee for Transit objects vigorously to the proposed CLRP allocation of $3.4 billion to widening I-270 and US 15 north of Shady Grove. This is a grievously mistaken policy decision. Furthermore, the TPB is making this bad decision with an utter lack of transparency.
As best we can determine, the proposal represents a $3.4 billion increase in the amount previously allocated to this project in the CLRP. But the incomplete and confusing documentation of this plan issued by the TPB leaves the public without the information necessary to evaluate the proposal. It is inexcusable to make such a vast investment with such an utter lack of openness. Missing from the proposal are:
A public announcement of this item.
A project description. The $3.4 billion cost is stated only once in the voluminous documentation posted on COG's website, buried in a list of project changes.
Inclusion of this project in the list of regional significant projects, even though its cost exceeds every listed project except Dulles rail.
A listing of the cost of each project in the CLRP.
An explanation of where MDOT found the money in its tight budget.
What’s more, spending more than three billion dollars on widening I-270 is a terrible idea:
It’s a waste of money, because widening I-270 will not reduce congestion. When I-270 was widened south of Shady Grove, the new lanes quickly filled up and the road was soon just as congested as before – except with many more cars.
It erroneously assumes that transportation cannot be improved without highway widening. MDOT has never analyzed an all-transit alternative for this corridor, although it was instructed to do so by the TPB 13 years ago.
It uses money that would be better used for transit. The proposed $3.4 billion for highway widening would fund the first three phases of the MARC Growth and Investment Plan, plus the final phase of the plan for the Brunswick Line. The MARC Growth and Investment Plan is not currently funded in the CLRP.
It precludes extension of the Metro Red Line to Germantown by removing the existing right of way along I-270 in which the extension could be built most cost-effectively.
Our organization has worked for many years to include alternatives to the failed policy of highway widening in the planning process for the I-270/US 15 corridor. This work included, in 1997, prompting the TPB to reject a Major Investment Study and to insist that an all-transit alternative must be analyzed. But the State Highway Administration's response was compliance on paper only. The SHA’s so-called “transit” alternative was to add both general-purpose and HOV lanes to I-270, for a total highway width of 14 lanes in places.
In 2009, we proposed a specific all-transit alternative at a cost comparable to the I-270 widening. This won wide support from the public and from Montgomery County legislators. Yet SHA is still refusing to consider real alternatives to its highway widening policy.
Proposing to spend $3.4 billion on highway widening is particularly unwise at a time when the public favors investing in transit over roads by a 2-1 margin and traditional sources of transportation revenue are drying up. In its last session, the Maryland legislature created a Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation to search for new sources of transportation revenue. Will the public support new taxes for transportation, if the money will be spent on the highway projects the public opposes?
We urge the TPB not to include or even consider construction funding for I-270 widening in the CLRP until a true all-transit alternative for the corridor has been fully evaluated.