County officials mull toll roads along American Legion Bridge -- Gazette.Net


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Several Montgomery and Fairfax county officials say they’d back a proposal to add toll lanes across the American Legion Bridge near Cabin John to support bus service between Bethesda and Tysons Corner.

The added lanes — modeled after Virgina’s HOT Lanes — would be put in place to accommodate a regional bus service as well as carpoolers and those willing to pay a fee across the bridge to help relieve traffic congestion along the Capital Beltway.

The lanes were proposed as a solution to the congestion that builds on the bridge and the Capital Beltway by members of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, a part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments during a meeting Wednesday between Montgomery and Fairfax county officials.

The number of vehicles on the bridge — the only physical connection between Montgomery and Fairfax counties over the Potomac River — is increasing steadily. On average, 232,000 vehicles crossed it daily in 2010, a figure set to increase by seven percent by 2020, according to Ronald F. Kirby, director of transportation planning for the Council of Governments.

He said it is one of the worse bottlenecks for commuters in the area.

Currently, no bus service operates across the bridge, James Hamre, director of bus planning for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said. The one that operated between the counties was scraped in 2003 because of a lack of ridership.

He said the line was hampered by traffic congestion.

Montgomery County council members Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park and Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring, both members of the county’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee Wednesday gave an endorsement of adding toll lanes along the beltway near the bridge.

Floreen said she sees such a project as the future of transportation project funding and that the county should be “vigorous advocates” of such a project.

“At the end of the day, the user is going to have to chip in,” she said. “...There’s no way around it.”

Currently, neither the state of Maryland nor Virginia have plans to physically expand the bridge or build another nearby.

Kirby said revenues for toll lanes there could cover the cost of building a regional Bus Rapid Transit network around Washington, D.C.

Hamre said Metrobus is considering a route from the Bethesda Metrorail station to Tysons Corner in service proposals for 2013. He said studies show a market of roughly 38,000 daily riders for a major connection between Metrorail’s Red Line and the proposed Silver Line, expected to open in Tysons Corner at the end of 2013.

The Maryland State Highway Administration is currently evaluating whether or not it could add lanes along the I-270 corridor through the beltway to the bridge, Barry Kiedrowski of the SHA said Wednesday. This could include re-painting the lanes along the highway, physically attempting to expand parts of the road or converting the existing High Occupancy Vehicle into toll lanes.

Creating such capacity along the 14-mile corridor was estimated to cost between $1.04 billion and $2.65 billion in a study published by the highway administration in 2009. Costs for expanding the bridge are unknown.

Montgomery transportation committee chair and council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said he wasn’t ready to endorse the toll lane plan, but felt that Montgomery County needed a plan to advocate to state officials in hoping of seeing results soon.

“Let’s own our own destiny and take care of our destiny and see if we can come up with something we can agree on,” he said.

The SHA is expected to publish a further study of the corridor later this year, said Morteza Tadayon, chief of the administration’s travel forecasting division.

Virginia’s managed lanes, now called 495 Express Lanes, are expected to open at the end of this year, Bulova said. They run along the Capital Beltway from Springfield, Va. to the American Legion Bridge and charge users a fee for use.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova said she will explore asking Fluor Enterprises and partner Transurban Group — responsible for Virginia’s 495 Express Lanes — to study the cost of extending them into Maryland.

aruoff@gazette.net