Planned Gridlock or Traffic Relief? Governor Hogan’s Traffic Relief Plan Offers Hope
By Mark Uncapher, MCGOP Chairman
Any Montgomery County voter looking for traffic relief will not get much hope from the transportation manifestos of Montgomery County’s “progressive” Democrats this primary season. Collectively, they all try to outdo each other in their opposition to anything involving spending for roads.
Instead of supporting projects that will reduce travel times, they propose diverting more money to public transit. They push a strategy of “planned gridlock” that is intended to drive motorists from their cars.
If alleging “planned gridlock” seems harsh, consider the Montgomery County Council legislation designed to slow traffic flow by significantly narrowing travel lane widths on some busy roads and cutting speed limits. This is intended to “prioritize moving people, not cars,” as though cars do not contain people. In smart growth jargon, “transit-oriented development” reflects plans to restrict new development to high density in order to “nudge” more public transit use.
By contrast, Governor Hogan has offered a “Traffic Relief Plan” that uses the Public-Private Partnership (P3) industry for input and solutions. Hogan’s $9 billion proposal, which would add four new lanes on both I-495 and I-270, is the largest proposed P3 highway project in North America.
Under the P3 approach, private developers would design, build, finance, operate and maintain new lanes on I-495 between the American Legion Bridge and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and on I-270 between I-495 and I-70. Once completed, the Traffic Relief Plan will deliver new express toll lanes, in addition to existing lanes, on I-495, I-270 and MD 295.
Already, nearly half of Maryland’s transportation spending is devoted mass transit, even though cars account for approximately 97% of all travel. Transportation planners justify the imbalance by promising motorists that travelers will be diverted away from the roads to transit.
Yet after spending billions over the past two decades on public transit, Maryland mass transit’s increase of 52,000 daily commuters has been more than offset by a 62,000 loss in carpool commuters. According to Census data between 1990 and 2008, 93% (400,000) of all additional commutes were by single-occupant automobiles. In fact, almost many as many commuters have been “diverted” from the roads by working at home (47,000) as were by mass transit.
In short, promised travel diversion to public transit has not materialized. Nevertheless, Maryland’s so-called “progressives” are not prepared to give up.
The fact that transit planners have failed to make good on their promise of less crowded roads in exchange for more mass transit spending should come as no surprise to anyone looking at a map and considering the distribution of jobs and homes. A century ago, centralized job locations could be fed by convenient trolley lines within a 10-mile radius. Today, our metropolitan areas now span thousands of square miles with population densities that cannot support widespread mass transit usage.
Maryland has the second-longest commuting times in the country, and the National Capital Region is the most congested region in the nation based on annual delay and congestion cost per auto commuter. The statewide cost of congestion based on auto delay, truck delay and wasted fuel and emissions was estimated at $2 billion in 2015. This is an increase of 22 percent from the $1.7 billion estimated cost of congestion in 2013. More than 98 percent of the weekday congestion cost was incurred in the Baltimore/Washington region.
Governor Hogan’s Traffic Relief Plan will be critical to spurring increased economic development and restoring quality of life for countless Marylanders who have been negatively affected by years of traffic congestion.