Montgomery Co. considers court challenge over plane noise; Berliner nixes new Potomac bridge

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner says the county is investigating whether it can change the path of air traffic by heading to court.

The county is considering spending $7,500 to get legal advice on whether the county has the standing to take the Federal Aviation Administration to court, and whether the county could win a battle to get the flight path to Reagan National Airport changed to ease what area residents say is increased — and ceaseless — overhead noise.

Berliner says he’s heard from area residents about air traffic noise ever since the Federal Aviation Administration introduced a new flight path into the D.C. region that, according to Berliner, creates a funnel effect, sending an increased number of planes over neighborhoods along the Potomac River from Avenel to Glen Echo to Brookmont.

Berliner says he recently stood in the front yard of one Bethesda-area resident to get a sense of how bad the situation really is. “Every 90 seconds — every 90 seconds — you could hear the airplanes, and not just a little,” Berliner said. He added that residents say the noise starts as early as 5:30 a.m. “Imagine trying to sell a house; imagine trying to have some quality of life” under those conditions, Berliner told reporters on Monday.

No to new Potomac bridge

On the topic of area gridlock, Berliner said the council is set to pass a resolution opposing any plans to create a second Potomac River crossing from Maryland into Virginia. The idea would be to ease congestion on the American Legion Bridge.

“It’s never going to happen,” Berliner said of any plan to add a bridge in the northwestern pocket of Montgomery County where land has been set aside in an agricultural reserve. “Our priority should be fixing what is broken, not fantasizing about a bridge that will not happen.”

Berliner says it’s clear that gridlock throughout the region is a major problem, and that the American Legion Bridge is a chokepoint: “It’s terrible, and it’s terrible every day.” But instead of trying to build another bridge, Berliner has advocated for HOT lanes in the I-270 corridor.

Berliner has something in common with Gov. Larry Hogan on that score; while visiting a nonprofit in Silver Spring, Hogan said the state would not be funding any additional Potomac River crossing on its own. “If we don’t have federal and state support, it’s not going to happen; the State of Maryland is not going to pay for it,” said Hogan.

Hogan said he’d be in the county on Tuesday to talk about road building in the I-270 corridor: “We’re moving forward with as many plans to expedite the projects that we can” in Montgomery County, he said.

Tuesday’s news conference will be held at Watkins Mill Road. Montgomery County Council members had been pressing for an interchange at that location for years, and were disappointed when the Hogan administration announced the delay of the project last year. At the time, the State Highway Administration examined possible design changes in an effort to cut the cost of the project, which now has an estimated price tag of $129 million.

In 2013, the Watkins Mill Road interchange was listed as one of the projects in a package announced by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, who said moving ahead with those projects would be made possible in part by the boost in Maryland’s gas tax which he signed into law. The increase added between 13 to 20 cents a gallon to the price of gas and was the first increase in the state’s gas tax in 20 years.

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