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I-270 tolls, Metro among top Montgomery Co. transport priorities; Metro GM responds on Red Line issues

Traffic flows on Interstate 270 in this WTOP file photo. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

ROCKVILLE — New toll lanes along Interstate 270, additional money for Metro, and changes to ideas for bus rapid transit are all among the Montgomery County Council’s priorities for billions in future transportation projects.

The council also pushed Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld for answers on repeated Red Line problems.

 

Red Line issues

Wiedefeld appeared before the council Tuesday as part of his tour of the region’s state, local and regional government bodies where he is pitching his long-term plans for the Metro system.

In response to questions from council members, Wiedefeld said he hopes to announce temporary fixes soon for the Red Line tunnel through the Bethesda and Medical Center area “in the near future to try to do something immediate.”

Almost since the tunnel was built, it has continued to fill with water and grime, leading Wiedefeld to liken it to Luray Caverns.

The water problems, which persist even though crews have been dedicated to digging out drains for the past year, have led to continued smoke problems, as well as increased wear and tear on other pieces of the system there.

On Friday morning, the Red Line was shut down on two stretches between Dupont Circle and Medical Center due to arcing insulators. Separate issues downtown caused problems Tuesday morning.

While water is a problem in several parts of the system, Metro has had to particularly focus on the area between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor-Strathmore. The Federal Transit Administration has identified issues continuing down the Red Line into the District toward Dupont Circle.

Metro sources have told WTOP the agency is considering a temporary sealant, that has worked in some other places relatively quickly, to stop leaks and keep seeping groundwater out.

Wiedefeld told the council that the agency is going through some procurement problems, but he believes all of the recent issues show Metro must attempt some type of short-term fix.

Metro canceled plans for a major construction project to essentially rebuild the interior of the tunnel after bids came in much more expensive than Metro had forecast.

Metro instead now is planning to come up with a construction plan over the next six years for the major project. Construction would happen later.

County priorities

The council Tuesday approved a letter to the Maryland Department of Transportation changing the county’s priorities for major transportation construction and planning projects.

Before the vote, members highlighted the need to improve commutes along I-270 by extending the 495 Express Lanes across the Legion Bridge and up 270. They also focused on major improvements for Metro, the hope that the Purple Line state-run light rail line will move forward, other road widening projects, and bus rapid transit.

Council President Roger Berliner asked to add specific language to the letter asking the state to “expand its support for Metro, including dedicated funding, in order to address the long-term degradation to the system … without further burdening riders.”

“Less service and higher fares are counterproductive to attracting riders at a time of extended degraded service quality … funding should be sufficient to allow rollback of the service cuts of June 2017 as soon as is feasible,” the addition approved by the council said.

State delegates who submitted written comments on the plan also emphasized support for transit improvements such as dedicated funding for Metro, new MARC stations or additional off-peak service on the Brunswick Line, and bus improvements.

Montgomery County estimates that the I-270 improvements from Shady Grove north could cost about $2 billion in Montgomery County, while other projects, such as some bus rapid transit lanes, could cost less. Funding for any projects that do move forward would come from a mix of state and federal money.

The county’s Department of Transportation hopes the state moves forward with at least four or five of the most important projects.

Nancy Floreen voted against the letter, because she said it should have included a request that the state fund work for Montrose Parkway east. The state has said it would rely on county money for the project.

Berliner was happy with the letter, which also includes funding requests for several safety improvements for people walking or biking and a project to bring water back to part of the C & O Canal.

“We’ve got 270, we’ve got Metro, we’ve got BRT, we’ve got bicycles, we’ve got the C & O Canal. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got it all,” he said.

The specifics

The letter kept these previous priorities:

  • WMATA infrastructure maintenance; construction funds
  • Supporting road improvements for the Metro bus Priority Corridor Network; construction funds
  • Purple Line; construction funds
  • Corridor Cities Transitway; construction funds
  • I-270 widening north of Shady Grove; planning funds
  • I-495 widening west of the I-270 West Spur to Virginia; planning funds
  • MD 355 BRT; design funds
  • MD 586 (Veirs Mill Road) BRT; design funds
  • US 29/Tech Road/Industrial Parkway interchange; design and construction funds • MD 97 (Georgia Avenue) in Montgomery Hills: safety and accessibility improvements; design funds
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPAs); design funds

 

The letter removed these priorities from the county’s previous letters:

  • $25 million State contribution for a share of Montrose Parkway East; construction funds
  • US 29 BRT; construction funds
  • MD 355 BRT; construction funds
  • MD 586 (Veirs Mill Road) BRT; construction funds
  • MD 97 (Georgia Avenue)/MD 28 (Norbeck Road) interchange; construction funds • MD 124 (Woodfield Road), Midcounty Highway to Airpark Drive: widen to 4 lanes; construction funds
  • MD 117 (Clopper Road), I-270 to Seneca Creek State Park: improve intersections; construction funds
  • I-270/Newcut Road interchange; construction funds
  • MD 97 (Georgia Avenue) in Montgomery Hills: safety & accessibility improvements; construction funds
  • MD 355 (Frederick Road)/Gude Drive interchange; planning funds
  • MD 650 (New Hampshire Avenue) BRT; planning funds
  • Midcounty Highway Extended, ICC to Shady Grove Road; planning funds
  • MD 119 (Great Seneca Highway)/Sam Eig Highway/Muddy Branch Road interchange; planning funds
  • ICC hiker-biker trail: US 29 to MD 650, Bonifant Road to MD 182; planning funds
  • MARC Brunswick Line Growth and Investment Plan improvements; planning funds

 

The letter added these new priorities:

  • US 29 north of White Oak: shoulders repairs for BRT use; construction funds
  • US 29 south of White Oak: evaluation of options to manage congestion and improve transit travel time reliability; planning funds
  • MD 355, Ridge Road to Stringtown Road: widen to four lanes and improve intersections; planning funds 2
  • MD 198 (Spencerville Road), Old Columbia Pike to US 29: widen to four lanes; construction funds
  • MD 28 (Norbeck Road), Georgia Avenue to Wintergate Drive: bicycle/pedestrian improvements; construction funds
  • Congestion management strategies on the I-270 East Spur and on the Beltway from I-270 to I- 95; planning funds
  • Bike/ped improvements along several State highways; construction funds
  • Bikeshare program support; capital and operating funds
  • Boyds MARC Station expansion; design and construction funds
  • MARC Brunswick Line off-peak service; planning and operating funds
  • White Flint MARC Station; planning funds
  • C & O Canal National Historic Park, restoration of the towpath and re-watering the canal; grants
  • Off-road park trails, improvements; grants
  • C & O Canal Byway, development of a management plan; planning funds

 


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