by James A. Bacon
Three days ago the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) issued an innocuous press release announcing that it would sponsor and fund a study of future travel demand across the Potomac River. Specifically, the study will focus on cross-river traffic and demand between the Route 15 crossing north of Leesburg to the Route 301 crossing some 60 miles to the southeast.
Stated the press release: “The study will develop a common set of data from which Virginia, D.C. and Maryland can discuss approaches to ease congestion and increase multi-modal mobility among the three jurisdictions. The study will define the problem, not recommend the solution.”
Can you spot the asymmetry in this arrangement? Virginia, Maryland and D.C. will collaborate to study the demand for cross-river transit but Virginia will pay for the study.
Why would Maryland not help chip in to cover the cost? An October letter from Maryland’s Acting Secretary of Transportation Darrell B. Mobley to Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton provides a clue:
The Maryland Department of Transportation’s (MDOT’s) highest priority remains the preservation of our existing infrastructure and the safety of the traveling public. MDOT does not intend to revisit the years of debate regarding new crossings of the Potomac River. We are interested in the study of potential improvements to existing crossings, including: The Governor Nice Bridge along the U.S. 301 corridor, the American Legion Bridge on the Capital Beltway, and the potential addition of transit across the Wilson Bridge. … We believe that exploring the concept of additional crossings of the Potomac at this time could create unrealistic expectations and defer the time and resources that should be dedicated toward addressing regional needs by improving our existing crossings.
… I recognize that this may alter your willingness to pursue the study as you envisioned, but our staff participation would be contingent upon constraining any analysis to the existing crossings.
The VDOT press release does not state that the study is motivated by a desire to explore an additional crossing, but that’s the conclusion of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a passel of other environmentalist and smart-growth organizations from the Piedmont Environmental Council to the 1000 Friends of Maryland.
Connaughton, states a joint press release, “is intent on pursuing new bridges.” Last spring Gov. Bob McDonnell had met with Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to discuss the topic of another Potomac River crossing. McDonnell and Connaughton have been “relentless in pursuit” of a bridge crossing in association with an outer beltway. Meanwhile, VDOT is studying the practicality of building the Tri-County Parkway, a southern link in the outer beltway that would bridge the Potomac.
“It is very odd that Virginia officials keep pressing for new bridges upriver for that would divert scarce public dollars away from urgent needs like fixing existing roads, highways and transit,” stated Dru Schmidt-Perkins of 1000 Friends of Maryland in the press release. “Maryland has consistently pointed out, as they do in their recent letter, that they have much more urgent needs, and this isn’t one.”