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Is there a silver lining to Montgomery Co. traffic congestion?

Traffic zooms through Silver Spring, Maryland on the Capital Beltway. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

WASHINGTON — Traffic is moving more slowly through Montgomery County. But county council members aren’t exactly sure why — and if that’s good news or bad.

The 2017 mobility assessment report, which analyzed traffic congestion in the county, found drivers in the county were moving an average four miles per hour slower in 2015 than they were in 2011.

“To cut to the chase, is this … saying traffic is better in Montgomery County than, let’s say, Arlington?” council member Nancy Floreen asked members of the county’s Planning Department during a committee work session Thursday.

The answer wasn’t as clear.

“It depends on the lens that you look through,” responded Russel Provost, the county’s senior transportation planner.

That was the general theme of the work session as council members tried to decipher data from the report. That report also found drivers needed to add an extra six minutes to their planned trips to ensure an on-time arrival during that same span.

Floreen suggested slower traffic may actually be a boost to pedestrian safety.

“If it’s slower here, well, we could say it’s safer here,” Floreen said.

She also asked county planners about the impact of safety improvements on traffic speed.

“Have you factored in speed cameras?” Floreen asked Provost. The county planners hadn’t, he said.

Floreen pointed to that as a possible cause for the drop in speed. Other members, such as Deputy Council Administrator Glenn Orlin, said that shouldn’t be much of a factor during rush hours.

Provost said the numbers could be open to interpretation.

The analysis surmised traffic congestion in the county is getting worse thanks, in part, to increased unpredictability from crashes or other abnormal road activity.

The report also found an overall increase in total miles driven on roads throughout the county, although per capita figures showed smaller increases. The interpretation could be that more people who don’t like to drive are moving to the county, residents are making shorter trips, or there are more people driving through the county.

The latter is a concern for Floreen, who asked county planners about whether they had examined the concept of setting up a toll booth on the Montgomery County-Carroll County line.

“I don’t know how you can address all of the growth and development that is happening in Carroll [County],” she said.

There was also a focus on telecommuting and encouraging employers to have their employees telecommute when they can. Council members connected the soft commercial real estate market to increased teleworking, since many people are working from home instead of at telecommuting hubs or satellite offices.

No official action was taken Thursday to address issues presented from the report.

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