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County Council’s Opposition to New Potomac Crossing Shows a Lack of Understanding of the Needs of Up

With Tuesday’s unanimous vote to oppose the very idea of considering a new study of a second Potomac River bridge, the Montgomery County Council once again showed a continued lack of concern for the 250,000 plus people that live in the UpCounty.

In the last three months, this Council has undermined the economic progress of the UpCounty. In April the Council attempted to remove M-83 from the master plan and yesterday it has put its hands over its collective ears and told the Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that the very idea wasn’t worth the Council’s time. Essentially, the Council said, considering a new bridge doesn’t meet with their limited view of what is best for the County.

Keep in mind that the resolution states “Montgomery County has long opposed another Potomac River bridge crossing from Northern Virginia to Montgomery County.” It opposes the very idea of the bridge. It sees the idea of the bridge as what Council President and 2018 County Executive candidate Roger Berliner called a “zombie bridge.” An idea not even worth discussing.

Luckily, the MWCOG Transportation Planning Board didn’t listen to the short-sighted members of the Montgomery County and voted to continue to include a “new northern bridge crossing of Potomac River, as a multimodal corridor.” Of course, the Board’s decision isn’t binding to anyone, including the County Council. While the Board’s list is just a suggestion, Germantown Pulse is happy that the Board didn’t dismiss the very notion of the bridge, which is what the Montgomery County Council did on Tuesday.

Germantown Pulse is not entirely in favor of a second bridge but believes that significant changes in the UpCounty and region as a whole make the idea of a new bridge a worthy and viable discussion.

Now, a second Potomac River bridge is not a new idea. It has been studied in the past and opposed in the past. Indeed, Councilmember Craig Rice mentioned how he opposed the idea when he was a State Delegate from District 15 more than a decade ago.

“When I was a State Delegate in District 15 the District 15 Delegation unanimously opposed the second bridge crossing,” Rice said in the Council meeting before the vote. “My views have not changed. This is not something that is an advantage for Montgomery County nor the UpCounty. Our continued need is for some sort of expansion along I-270 or M-83. Those are our top priorities and have always been. Those have been identified by the UpCounty Citizens Advisory Board. There is no benefit for the UpCounty for having a second Potomac River crossing.”

No benefit? Really? None? Not one? Not one Germantown, Clarksburg, Boyds, or Damascus resident works at one of the 713,000 jobs in Loudoun and Fairfax counties? No one from Germantown crawls down I-270, over the American Legion Bridge to work at one of the 32,081 jobs created in Loudoun County or the 19,550 jobs created Fairfax County in the last ten years? Those job creation figures come from the Montgomery County Planning Board’s “Trendsheet: Indicators of Montgomery County Progress 2017 Q1

In that same time, according to the Trendsheet, Montgomery County lost 2,964 jobs. According to Census data, from 2000 to 2010, the population of Germantown alone has grown by more than 20 percent from 55,418 in 2000 to 89,395 in 2010. Meanwhile, Census data shows that the population of Montgomery County grew by 98,346. If Montgomery County lost almost 3,000 jobs from 2006 to 2016, where are those additional residents working? Many are working in the District of Columbia, which added 82,397 jobs, others still are working in Howard County which added 23,605 jobs or Arlington County which added 13,740 jobs.

Opponents will say, but wait the last time a second bridge was discussed a study was done and it found that Montgomery County residents were not using the American Legion Bridge to get to jobs in Virginia. This is true, but that study was conducted in 2004.

In a February 2014 press release, Coalition for Smarter Growth, a group which opposes a second bridge, said, “A subsequent ‘Origin/Destination Study’ study in 2003-2004 by VDOT tracked every license plate crossing the American Legion Bridge and those entering and exiting the Beltway from every entrance/exit between Route 50 in Virginia to Georgia Avenue in Maryland. The results showed that very few vehicles were making the so-called ‘U-shaped’ commute from Reston and beyond to the Rockville/Gaithersburg area and vice versa. The vast majority of commutes needed to use the American Legion Bridge and Beltway or were making strictly radial (in-out) trips.”

Even in 2014, opponents of the second bridge were using data which was a decade old to defend their opposition. Do we honestly want to work from the baseline assumption that the UpCounty area and Montgomery County as a whole has not changed in the last ten years? The jobs and census data seem to show that there have been major shifts in where the jobs are and the number of people living in the UpCounty?

People are living in Montgomery County, but working elsewhere. The projected 2020 population of Montgomery County is 1,075,000 people (it is widely held that the County has already surpassed that figure). The Planning Department’s Trendsheet says there are 459,039 total jobs in the County. For purposes of discussion, let’s generously grant that the County will add 20,000 jobs in the next three years, bringing the jobs total to a hypothetical estimate of 479,039. That leaves 595,691 folks either not working or working outside of the County in 2020.

We can break that down further. The County’s Commission on Aging estimates that there will be about 175,000 seniors in the County by 2020. For our purposes, we will assume that all of them are retired and out of the workforce. According to the Planning Department’s Demographic Profile of the Youth Population by 2020, there will be 253,000 residents under the age of 18 in Montgomery County. When you remove all residents over the age of 65 and under 18, that leaves 168,000 people working outside of Montgomery County.

And the Council doesn’t want to even consider that in the next ten years — which is a reasonable amount of time to consider that a new bridge might be built by — the UpCounty and the rest of the region will not change further? And the Montgomery County Council doesn’t even want the Transportation Planning Board of the WMCOG even to begin thinking about a second bridge.

In that case, Germantown Pulse would like to see the Council’s plan for bringing more jobs to the UpCounty. We haven’t seen it, but if this is the attitude of the Council the plan must be very ambitious.

Councilmember and 2018 County Executive candidate Mark Elrich said, “We were looking for game changers and, I frankly, do not understand how this bridge crossing rises to the level of a game changer. This Council and most people familiar with Montgomery County’s transportation issues view the widening of the American Legion Bridge as the game changer.”

If the Council believes that improvements to the American Legion Bridge are the only “game changing” play, Germantown Pulse is wondering if the Montgomery County Council is playing the same game or even for the same team as the residents of Germantown and the UpCounty area when it comes to transportation concerns.

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