Northam transition panel pushes for new Potomac crossing

FAIRFAX, Va. — Virginia could push harder for a new crossing of the Potomac River under a series of recommendations from Gov. Ralph Northam’s transportation transition team.

Former Transportation Secretary John Milliken told the Commonwealth Transportation Board that Virginia needs another crossing between the Chain Bridge and Point of Rocks on Tuesday.

“There are no good locations,” Milliken said. “It’s difficult to get Maryland to agree to anything, it’s difficult to get Northern Virginia to put its act together to agree on any one thing, but it is worth continuing to do because it’s costing Virginia jobs where people simply don’t want to make the long trek.”

A regional review completed last year found the bridge would do little to solve regional congestion problems.

Northam’s transition group also recommended fixes to the American Legion Bridge and upgrades for Interstate 81.

New Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine is scheduled to meet with Maryland and D.C. transportation leaders Wednesday morning, mainly to discuss solutions to Metro’s issues, but she said she would also discuss other ways to cross the Potomac.

Virginia does not control any of the bridges and is working with Maryland on plans to extend the 495 Express Lanes over the Legion Bridge in coming years.

Maryland leaders have repeatedly shot down suggestions for another crossing between Fairfax or Loudoun counties to Montgomery County, especially since any bridge would also require billions in new roads through Montgomery County’s agricultural reserve to connect to it.

Northern Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board Member Gary Garczynski said any change would take significant discussions between the governors in Maryland and Virginia.

“Having the dialogue keeps the pressure on Maryland,” he said.

The next steps in plans to rebuild the Legion Bridge and add toll lanes around the Maryland portion of the Beltway and the length of Interstate 270 are expected in late spring or early summer when Maryland releases a request for qualifications for private groups that might build and operate the toll lanes.

Maryland has separately advanced plans to rebuild the Harry Nice Bridge carrying U.S. 301 between Charles County, Maryland, and King George County, Virginia.

In between the Nice and Legion bridges, Virginia and the District are working together on an expansion of the Long Bridge between D.C. and Arlington that will allow for a major expansion of freight and passenger rail traffic.

Other Northam transportation transition team goals include making transportation a more integral part of economic development discussions, continuing a focus on emerging transportation technologies — such as autonomous vehicles — expanding efforts to cut down on traffic jams by reducing the proportion of people driving alone in areas like Northern Virginia, and a continued focus on prioritizing the best projects.

For the greatest economic impact, the 50-plus member transportation transition team recommended investments especially focus on access to the Port of Virginia, Dulles International Airport and Metro.

Editor’s Note: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam takes your calls and questions live at 10 a.m. on Wednesday Feb. 21 on WTOP’s Ask the Governor

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