Special Features

Image Libraries

Blog
Thought The Twentieth Century Was Over?

The ICC at Route 29

Federal officials Monday night gave final approval to the ICC, the new interstate highway connecting Gaithersburg and Laurel. Within hours, Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich broke ground near Shady Grove, and construction will begin in earnest this fall.

Our position at BeyondDC pretty much mirrors Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan’s. Originally a supporter of the road, Duncan responded to the groundbreaking by saying “They have gutted the state dedicated transportation fund, cut transit and left future generations of Maryland to deal with the consequences. We must not be lulled into the belief that one road alone will solve our transportation challenges.” On its own merits, the ICC isn’t a bad highway, as highways go. It will densify parts of Montgomery County that long ago suburbanized, while diverting growth from still-rural parts of the I-270 corridor. It will make possible more commercial activity in the eastern part of the metropolitan area, making it more competitive with the west. It will better link suburban Maryland with Baltimore, theoretically helping to reinforce economic health in the latter.

The problem is that it all comes at a cost. Coming in at over $130 million per mile, the Maryland DOT has been fervently cutting transit projects around the state to pay for its new highway. The Corridor Cities and Bi-County Transitways are both likely to be downgraded to bus routes instead of rail. The CCT is being routed around walkable neighborhoods instead of through them because it’s cheaper, while one option for the BCT eliminates even the rapid part of Bus Rapid Transit, leaving the corridor with a simple surface bus. Baltimore’s grand rail plan was rewritten to favor buses, and the one new line undergoing active study (there is another extension in the works as well) is being pushed as a BRT corridor, with locally preferred subway off the table completely. In all cases the transit corridors are progressing slowly, if at all. It would be political suicide to cut them altogether, but with attention focused squarely on the ICC, MDOT has quietly put transit on the back burner. They’re not cancelled; they’re simply not being advanced.

If money were not an issue, we would like the ICC. But if building the ICC means no new transit (or just as bad: ineffective transit) in Maryland for a generation, it’s just not going to be worth it.

May 31st, 2006 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: transportation

  • pennster

    I still support the ICC. It had to be done sometime, and better late than never, especially with something on the planning boards for almost 50 years.

    I doubt the “Bi-County Transitway” will be “downgraded”. The people in the areas it would go through at least wouldn’t support a bus line, that’s for sure.

  • Cyrus

    Contrary to BeyondDC’s viewpoint, I think the ICC will restart the momentum to get these big transportation built. No major transportation project has been built in Montgomery County since the completion of the Glenmont Line in the 90’s. There are many ways to fund transportation projects and new revenue for projects can always be raised when a project is ready to go and in demand. The ICC is waranted and will produce bigger economic gains per dollar spent than the Purple Trolley Line and other transit projects.

    Nor do I accept the assertion that BRT will be the death of BCT, CCT, or Baltimore City lines. I have not been convinced, after following this site for nearly 4 years that BRT is “ineffective transit.” The problem is that we have not tried it in Washington yet and until we do so, we cannot write off BRT.

  • Dan

    One of the phrases I’ve heard a lot since the announcement yesterday is that the ICC (and Wilson Bridge and Mixing Bowl reconstruction) are “opening the floodgates” for transportation improvements region-wide. Money is only an issue now because there are so many projects that will be competing for it in the coming years. Virginia will start on the Silver Line by the end of this year. Maryland might actually move along with the Green Line extension, if Sen. Giannetti has his way. Who knows? This might be a blessing in disguise.

  • BeyondDC

    I hope it is, though I am not optimistic.

    As for BRT, it has its place. We should be building it wherever possible as an improvement to regular buses. But it lacks the capacity of rail, it isn’t as comfortable to ride as rail and it hasn’t proven to be capable of spurring TOD *anywhere*. It’s not a coincidence that the only major North American city to maintain a comprehensive trolley network instead of tearing them out in favor of buses is also the North American city with the highest per capita transit ridership.

    But I’ll tell you what I really object to about BRT: It’s too easy to cut corners with. First you start off by asking why we really need these fancy looking buses when a regular bus will do the job just fine. So you cut the fancy bus in favor of a more affordable option. Then you ask why we really need dedicated lanes for the buses when HOV or HOT lanes will do just as well, so you allow cars to share the ROW. Etc etc ad nauseam. There are an endless number of ways to skimp, and virtually every BRT project I’ve seen in other parts of the country ends up doing it one way or another (or 12). Before long you’ve got a glorified regular bus route. If you actually build BRT that is really and truly BRT it can be almost as good as a light train. The problem is that very rarely actually happens.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    When do road projects get connected to other mobility projects in a concerted fashion in this region? Other than when DC put its freeway money into WMATA?

    I find Duncan’s changed tune very interesting. The articles last summer in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post had photos (and quotes) of him in very close proximity to Gov. Ehrlich–of course, that was before he announced he was running for governor. See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/25482699/

    Having a good governor in Maryland matters a lot to us in DC. A pro-transit governor is a lot better for DC than a pro-road governor.

    Anyway, this is why I have been putting ou the idea that transit advocates need to organize an annual conference, alternating between the DC and Baltimore regions, to lay out our own mobility agenda.

  • Cyrus

    It’s interesting that you mention BRT as being progressively cut from until it is just a normal bus route because I actually see BRT doing just the opposite light. Transforming a bus route to “true BRT” and then higher forms of transit. My rationale is based on the fact that funding is limited for transit and there is current demand that needs to be met now, not in 10, 20, or 50 years out. We need “higher capacity” modes of transit along major arterials like Connecticut Avenue, US 29, Viers Mill Road and their counterparts in PG and NoVa where immediate transit needs are not met by regular bus service. There is no way that funding will become available for all these projects in our generation despite the demand. I see the solution as slowly constructing a piece-meal BRT system by upgrading bus routes: first with quality bus stops with real-time bus arrival info and “queue jumpers” to bypass traffic lights. Next steps include dedicated bus lanes and nicer buses. Final improvements include grade separation at interchanges where necessary. The system evolves slowly in small increments as funding becomes available. It allows, unlike in the normal transit line framework, developers to build segments of the project or buy buses. It allows transit planners to determine where the next improvements are most warranted in the system through ridership figures. And dedicated bus lanes can always be converted to light rail, the ultimate form of transit (non-Metrorail), where ridership warrants the massive expenditures. The Purple Line as an exception because the important corridor it serves and the fact that much of it may have to be placed underground, which would make heavy rail more feasible than light rail.

    This is not new. One of the proposals for the Silver Line, a few years back was to build an “express bus” system long before Metrorail could be completed to form the future rail ridership. I admit, due to the intricacies of the Silver Line r.o.w., this transformation is a lot easier than doing the same for the Purple Line. I think the Columbia Pike project in Arlington is the closest project to reality under this framework. Arlington County spent a lot of effort upgrading the bus system along that corridor. Now they are planning to build light rail. Montgomery County’s Viers Mill BRT is another example, though very little work on it has been done, thanks to weak political backing. It didn’t have to be that way though.

    The problem with light rail systems is that they have to be built in entirety from the start and they are unaffordable on a system-wide basis. We don’t need to wait for the turn of the next century to see a world-class multi-modal transportation system. We can start building it right now.

  • DanM

    I agree completely with everything you just said, Cyrus. As I said before, BRT has its place and should be greatly expanded in all our cities. As an improvement to surface bus service it is wonderful. What it is not is a long term replacement for rail. It’s a mode that we should use where appropriate, not a cheap panacea for all transit needs so that we can spend more money on roads.

    As to the point about BRT “building” rather than “skimping”, both are true. It is simultaneously BRT’s blessing and curse. It really depends on the corridor. If you’re looking at a regular bus corridor and you say “OK, what can we do to improve service here that will get a lot of bang for the buck” then you do one or two BRT-style improvements along the lines of PikeRide, call it a day, and everyone is happy. But if you’re dealing with a new regional rapid transit corridor and trying to sell it as “rail on wheels”, as is frequently done, then it’s another story entirely. Then you start off with fancy renderings of the very best BRT in order to sell the idea to people who thought they’d be getting trains, and once the decision is made to go with buses the skimping begins.

  • mike

    One of the phrases I’ve heard a lot since the announcement yesterday is that the ICC (and Wilson Bridge and Mixing Bowl reconstruction) are “opening the floodgates” for transportation improvements region-wide. Money is only an issue now because there are so many projects that will be competing for it in the coming years. Virginia will start on the Silver Line by the end of this year. Maryland might actually move along with the Green Line extension, if Sen. Giannetti has his way. Who knows? This might be a blessing in disguise.
    ——————————–

    Please correct me if I am wrong but are you trying to say that because the ICC was approved by the FEDS, you think that the ICC could be sabatoged(like most of the past Maryland Highway Proposals) by the SELFISH needs of a tremendously EXPENSIVE Silver Line to Loudon County, and a few cheap unreliable lightrail trollies in Montgomery County??????????????

  • mike

    When do road projects get connected to other mobility projects in a concerted fashion in this region? Other than when DC put its freeway money into WMATA?

    I find Duncan’s changed tune very interesting. The articles last summer in the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post had photos (and quotes) of him in very close proximity to Gov. Ehrlich–of course, that was before he announced he was running for governor. See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/25482699/

    Having a good governor in Maryland matters a lot to us in DC. A pro-transit governor is a lot better for DC than a pro-road governor.

    Anyway, this is why I have been putting ou the idea that transit advocates need to organize an annual conference, alternating between the DC and Baltimore regions, to lay out our own mobility agenda.
    ——————————-

    Bad idea because thats been the same old excuse for the Maryland suburbs for years especially during the Parris Glendening era.

    I could never understand the views about scrapping ALL Highway Projects throughout the state of Maryland then use Mass Tranit as a so-called alternative but at the same time Northern Virginia Continues to build/widen Highways and extend expansive Subway projects to the outter suburbs, while Prince Georges County continues to suffer from the worst Mass Transportation system in the DC area even though the last Highway was built in PG County was well over 35 years ago.

    If Mass Transportation is the so-called better solution to Traffic Issues then why no one complained about the Widening of the Beltway in Virginia, building the Springfield Mixing Bowl, Widening I-66, Widening/HOV I-95 South to Central Virginia, Building, the Dulles Greenway to Lessburg, Building Fairfax County Parkway and Prince William County Parkway all in within the past 15-20 years.

  • ZanderMander

    “the only major North American city to maintain a comprehensive trolley network instead of tearing them out in favor of buses is also the North American city with the highest per capita transit ridership.”

    — Curious to know, which city is this?

    Thanks!

  • Dan

    This is Toronto, right? Toronto has the continent’s largest transit ridership, followed by New York, then . . . Washington!

  • mike

    This is Toronto, right? Toronto has the continent’s largest transit ridership, followed by New York, then . . . Washington!
    —————————————————————————————————-
    But New York and Toronto have more highway miles the the Maryland/DC area.

  • NovaWolverine

    I think I know which city it is. If it is Toronto I’m kinda surprised, that 401 is one of the busiest highways, and their heavy rail system is pretty unimpressive considering the size of the city. The growth in VA’s transportation, roads and rail is help b/c of both due to high growth, haphazard planning and improving what was already flawed.

    As for this project I support it. I agree with the first post, this project in one form or another is inevitable. Also about BRT, I agree with DanM, I think it runs the risk of being expanded and mishandled and forgotten. BRT no doubt is the next step in bus transit, which has been neglected and is why it’s seen as such an undesirable form of transportation in the first place. It’s not going to be the first priority of people, but the car shouldn’t be such an overwhelming favorite to it given the traffic and all of that, it can be greatly improved along with the general network and cooperative planning of the transit authorities. It sounds so obvious, but no one should forget how important planning and prioritizing is with projects of this magnitude that take such a long time to pan out.

  • Bethesda Guy

    Is it obvious that the ICC will bring new development to the I95 area? I keep running into people in the Rockville/Gaithersburg area who are ‘discovering’ Frederick. I wonder if the ICC’s main effect won’t be to broaden the footprint of the Gaithersburg-Frederick axis & draw additional money and people up I270. This effect would be problematical for several reasons– lack of infrastructure comes to mind– but for now, I just wonder if people think this makes any sense.

  • mike

    Is it obvious that the ICC will bring new development to the I95 area? I keep running into people in the Rockville/Gaithersburg area who are ‘discovering’ Frederick. I wonder if the ICC’s main effect won’t be to broaden the footprint of the Gaithersburg-Frederick axis & draw additional money and people up I270. This effect would be problematical for several reasons– lack of infrastructure comes to mind– but for now, I just wonder if people think this makes any sense.
    ———————————————————————————————————-

    The I-95/US 29 Corridor needs to be developed just like how they developed I-95 South and I-66 West in Virginia.



Media

   
   



Site
About BeyondDC
Archive 2003-06
Contact

Search:

GoogleBeyondDC
Category Tags:

Partners
 
  Greater Greater Washington
 
  Washington Post All Opinions Are Local Blog
 
  Denver Urbanism
 
  Streetsblog Network



BeyondDC v. 2013d | Email | Archive of posts from 2003-2006