Fragmented TPR's reports emerge
Dec. 7, 2001
Steven T. Dennis
Staff Writer




SILVER SPRING -- The latest effort to solve Montgomery County's traffic woes -- an 18-month, 33-member Transportation Policy Task Force -- has become a Balkanized group with various factions writing their own versions of a final report.

The task force presented its findings to the county Planning Board last week, and posted a draft report on its Web site, www.movemontgomery.org. The report includes a list of policy recommendations -- most of which endorse what the county is already doing -- along with a chart of votes on scores of proposed projects, including the Intercounty Connector highway from Gaithersburg to Laurel (20 to 12 in favor), the inner Purple Line light rail from Bethesda to New Carrollton envisioned by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (24 to 7 in favor), the Montrose Parkway (22 to 8 in favor) and a "low-Techway" bridge from River Road to Virginia, with associated road widenings (17 to 14 in favor).

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said Wednesday that he was gratified that nearly two-thirds of the task force support the ICC and the Montrose Parkway.

Factions favoring or opposing building new highways -- especially the ICC -- are also at work on their own reports. Planning Board staff also plan to propose its own recommended network of improvements next week, said Jeffrey Zyontz, countywide planning chief.

Trent Kittleman, a Marriott manager on the task force, wrote a draft that blames today's traffic congestion on past failures to build roads. Her draft was given to the Planning Board signed by 13 other task force members.

"For 50 years we have been implementing transit programs, land use programs, transportation demand programs," her report says. "What we have not been doing is building roads!"

Kittleman's report touts the Intercounty Connector as the most successful of any proposal modeled by the task force at reducing congestion, with a projected 7 percent increase in countywide travel speeds.

ICC opponents are also submitting reports or commentaries, including Takoma Park Councilman Marc Elrich and Montgomery Citizens Planning Association activist Pamela Lindstrom.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth and 30 other citizens' and environmental groups presented their proposed plan Thursday, endorsed by Elrich and TPR member Rodolfo Perez, that opposes new highways. Instead, they propose balancing land use, with slower and smarter growth focused at mass transit hubs. Part of the plan calls for regional cooperation on growth issues, including moving jobs to Prince George's County and housing to Washington, D.C.

Elrich has charged the task force was stacked in favor of pro-development interests. He noted that two votes on policy proposals -- that developers should pay for the costs of new transportation improvements and that development should halt unless infrastructure is in place to support it -- were each opposed by 15 task force members.

Lindstrom said ideas from both sides "fell victim to the polarization" of the task force. "We weren't going to vote for theirs and they weren't going to vote for ours," she said.

Elrich and others on the task force also lamented that the task force was told that it could not consider reducing growth expectations. He noted that both scenarios studied by the task force -- one focused on roads and the other on transit -- showed congestion in future decades getting worse, not better, on all but a few routes, because of growth assumptions.

Sam Raker, task force co-chairman, said last week he was disappointed that the group was unable to be more definitive.

"That's the unfulfilled thing, because now we are not making a complete recommendation," Raker said.

Co-chairman Stan Schiff had more positive things to say. Schiff said that the list of recommended projects, along with an education of the public on the complexity of the problem, are major contributions. He also noted that no matter what transportation projects are built, traffic continues to get worse.

"We can't build our way out of congestion," he said.

One of the policy proposals that the task force did agree on is that more money needs to be spent to pay for transportation improvements, with splits coming on whether that money should go to public transit or to new roads.

The task force suggested raising the state and federal gas tax and imposing tolls on some new roads.

Task force members from all factions also said that the task force did generate a lot of useful data on the impacts of various proposed policies, although they differ on how to interpret the data.

Zyontz said the ultimate goal is to incorporate the recommendations of the task force, which is purely advisory, into future master plans to guide development.

The Planning Board held a public hearing Thursday after The Gazette's deadline, and will hold another on Tuesday, with a work session Dec. 13. The meetings are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Planning Board headquarters at 8787 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring.

Staff Writer David Abrams contributed to this report.