A day that many area residents, especially commuters, have been dreaming about has come. Today Governor Larry Hogan was joined by Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, along with local officials and business leaders, to announce the start of construction of the $97.71 million I-270 interchange project at Watkins Mill Road.
While the new interchange will not be Germantown, it will be close enough to change the way many Germantown residents enter and exit I-270.
The new interchange will be built at Watkins Mill Road in Gaithersburg, a little more than 4,000 feet north of where Quince Orchard Road crosses under I-270. It will provide both northbound and southbound entrance to I-270 and allow traffic to exit I-270 from both directions to go either east on Watkins Mill Road to Rt. 355 or west to Clopper Road.
“As we kick off construction of the new Watkins Mill interchange, we are delivering a much-needed missing link – a new east-west route across I-270 that improves access to the Metropolitan Grove MARC Station and supports the planned growth and economic development in this region,” said Governor Hogan. “We are making sure Maryland will continue to be open for business, and we are helping the citizens of Montgomery County, and people all across the state, go about their daily lives in a faster, more efficient, and safer manner.”
The 1.25-mile project extends between MD 124 (Montgomery Village Avenue) and the Great Seneca Creek crossing near Game Preserve Road in Gaithersburg. The I-270 Corridor is home to dozens of thriving businesses and planned development. Montgomery County contributed $4.9 million for the design and engineering phase of the project.
“I would like to thank Governor Hogan for his attention to I-270, which is not only the ‘spine’ of Montgomery County but also is the economic engine of the State. The Watkins Mill Interchange project has a long history, and we would not be standing here today without the Governor’s and our State Delegation’s strong support and patience. Easing congestion on I-270 and nearby roads will improve the quality of life for so many Montgomery County residents that use this highway every day,” said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. “Furthermore, improving access to I-270 will make our region more attractive for new and expanding businesses, creating new jobs and new opportunities for our region.”
The I-270/ Watkins Mill Road Interchange will include a new four-lane bridge over I-270, with connecting entry and exit ramps that will provide direct access for interstate travelers. This connection will reduce congestion at the I-270/MD 124 interchange and the MD 124/MD 355 intersection.
To complete the project by summer 2020, the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) advertised the project using A+B bidding, an innovative cost plus time approach, ensuring that a cost is assigned to each working day. This ensures that the public impact and construction period are heavily considered as part of the determination for the award of the project. Wagman Heavy Civil of York, Pa. will serve as the state’s contractor.
The new interchange will enhance additional economic opportunities for the middle and UpCounty areas in Montgomery County. Currently, Watkins Mill Road does not connect visitors and residents to the Gaithersburg Medical Center, Metropolitan Grove MARC Station, Montgomery County Police Department, homes, and businesses. Drivers on either side of I-270 must use MD 117 (Clopper Road), MD 355 (Frederick Avenue), or MD 124 (Quince Orchard Road) to reach these areas.
Marilyn Balcombe, President of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, said that this project was critical for the UpCounty area of Montgomery County.
“One of the worst intersections in the county is Montgomery Village Avenue and Rt. 355. Anyone who has tried to make the left turn onto Rt. 355 it is terrible. It is going to free up that intersection on Montgomery Village Avenue and open up the east and the west. We have the Parklands neighborhood on the west side and commercial properties on the east side. We have residents over there, and commercial over here. This will open that up. This is a very important east-west connector for the UpCounty area.”
Balcombe, who has announced that she is running for one of the At-Large seats on the Montgomery County Council, said that the Watkins Mill Interchange had been the Chamber’s number one priority for many years. “We have been pushing for this for years. We had a false start a year ago. We spent a year waiting to see what Gov. Hogan was going to do. He pulled the project at the last minute and now finally it is back on track. We are hoping that it is going to happen and we will be driving on it in a year-and-half or two years.”
Additional work as part of the project includes resurfacing the I-270 collector/distributor lanes and a section of Watkins Mill Road, constructing retaining walls, extensive stream restoration, and construction of culverts and drainage structures.
Not all local political leaders with pleased with the governor. State Senator Nancy King (District 39 – D) took to Facebook at 9:01 pm Monday night to express her displeasure with not being invited to the groundbreaking. She posted, “The governor is holding a groundbreaking for the Watkins Mill Interchange tomorrow. Unfortunately, the legislators that have fought for this project for several years are not invited. Happy for the project - sad that the governor is so partisan.”
The interchange had been an issue between Republican Governor Larry Hogan and the Democrats who control the General Assembly. The project was one of 11 in Montgomery County that was in danger of being canceled because of what Hogan called the “road kill bill,” legislation that forced the administration to rank transportation projects and to say why certain projects receive state funding.
However, two of King’s fellow members of the District 39 delegation, Del. Charles Barkley and Del. A. Shane Robinson were both in attendance at the groundbreaking.
“This has been something we’ve been fighting for for a long time,” said Barkley, who has also announced that he is running an At-Large seat on the County Council. “It is going to help people get to different places. It will help people in Germantown gain easier access to 270.”]
Barkley said this project had been a long time coming. “It was approved during the O’Malley Administration in 2007. It was in the draft Consolidated Transportation Program, and when the final CTP came out in the summer, it had been pulled because he said it wanted to look at the project again to see what impact it would have on Montgomery Village.”
Today’s announcement by Governor Hogan follows MDOT SHA’s winning bid announcement for a $100 million Innovative Congestion Management congestion relief project designed to save commuters up to 30 minutes on their commute between I-70 and I-495. Between the two projects, nearly $200 million has been committed to improving mobility along the corridor.
Crews will begin work on the interchange project with the installation of work zone roadway signage, erosion and sediment controls, and performing vegetation management and clearing.
However, before congestion gets better, it will probably get worse as work begins on the new overpass. Drivers should be aware of the new work zone traffic patterns and work crews and be prepared to stop for all phases of work during the project. Crews will use construction cones and barrels throughout the work zone and electronic message boards to guide motorists through the work zone and alert drivers to changing traffic patterns.
Top: Gov. Larry Hogan, County Executive Ike Leggett are flanked by local leaders including Del. Charles Barkley and Del. Shane Robinson (District 39), and Maryland State Highway Administrator Gregory I. Slater, as well as Gaithersburg Mayor Judd Ashman and Gaithersburg City Council members “break ground” for the new interchange over I-270 at Watkins Mill Road.
Next: Photos of the plans for the interchange
Next: Gov. Larry Hogan
Next: Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.
Next: Local and state officials shovel dirt in a ceremonial groundbreaking.
Top photo by Mark Poekter for Germantown Pulse, other photos by Germantown Pulse.