New Potomac toll bridge being discussed - to link Montgomery Co MD, Fairfax Co VA

March 30, 2012

The governors of Maryland and Virginia are discussing the revival of an old but good project to link Fairfax County Virginia and Montgomery County Maryland with a new crossing of the Potomac River some 10 to 15 miles, 16km to 22km upstream of the Capital Beltway's crowded American Legion Bridge.

Outside the Beltway's crossing there isn't another bridge over the Potomac for nearly 40 miles, 65km until US15, a crowded slow 2-laner at Point of Rocks. It serves as an alternative for people like us in Frederick but the far more numerous people of Montgomery County MD in Gaithersburg, Rockville, and Germantown have no alternative to the Beltway's Potomac crossing. Fairfax county residents similarly have no Beltway alternative in getting to jobs in the nearby MD/I-270 commercial strip.

Of a new Potomac River crossing Virginia secretary of transport Sean Connaughton says there is no other project in the Washington DC metro area with comparable potential for improving mobility and taking unnecessary traffic off Beltway.

Connaughton said there's "enormous support" for the project among ordinary folks but opposition from special interests.

It was "long overdue for us to really examine this very seriously," he said this week.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell raised the project with Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley recently with a  view to a bi-state effort to sponsor studies of the project.

Connaughton: "We are starting the process. I've already had some discussion with them about a joint effort."

(These quotes come from a report by Liz Essley in the Washington Examiner, which first carried the story - editor.)

The new crossing would provide a direct link between the Rockville-Gaithersburg-Germantown area in Maryland and Reston-Sterling-Dulles-Chantilly in northern Virginia.

Two clear alternatives

Most probably this would be a westward extension of the Inter County Connector MD200/I-370 in Gaithersburg to cross the Potomac just upstream of the McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area then swing south to connect to VA28/Sully Road.

That is 15 miles, 25km total:  12 miles, 20km of highway to be built in Maryland and 3 miles, 5km in Virginia.

A shorter connection would be from the same point in Maryland at I-270/MD200/I-370 in Gaithersburg to the north end of the Algonkian/Fairfax County Parkway VA7100 with the river crossing on the eastern edge of the Bretton Woods Golf Course in Seneca MD and the Trump National Golf Club on the Virginia side of the river.

That would be about 11 miles, 17km total -  9 miles, 15km of new highway in Maryland and less than 2 miles in Virginia. The crossing to Fairfax County Parkway VA7100 would be about 10 miles upstream of the Beltway.

Virginia's Sean Connaughton is not getting into any discussion of routes, probably a wise decision at this point. He says simply that a new crossing is needed upriver to provide an alternative to the Capital Beltway I-495. Such a crossing would also provide an alternative to the lower part of I-270. Both highways carry average daily traffic of around 250,000.

Longer VA28 connection probably the better route

The shorter connection MD200-VA7100 is probably in the end more difficult to build because VA7100 would need major upgrades. It is already heavily trafficked and difficult to widen.

A major aim of the project would be to improve access to Washington Dulles International Airport and the connection upriver to VA28 does that better. VA28 is already close to expressway standard. And being in a basically commercial corridor VA28 is more easily upgraded.

VA7100 by contrast is just a 2x2 lane parkway with all its of  its six intersections at grade and running through a predominantly residential area.

Greens will - surprise, surprise - oppose

There will be strong opposition from the 'greens' to any plan but they will mobilize fewer householder and NIMBY allies against the VA28 connection than against the link to VA7100. In Maryland there are fewer choices of route and the challenge will be to minimize impacts on residential areas of North Potomac.

The construction faces few major engineering challenges.

This is a white water stretch of the Potomac with the only shipping being canoes. There are no high cliffs. The highway connections on either side go through gently undulating or flat terrain and can be routed to avoid small clumps of housing.

The big challenge will be to design a highway that blends into a pretty stretch of countryside, and minimizes impacts in North Potomac where there is, unfortunately, no highway reservation in land use plans.

ICC West

This is a westward extension of the Inter County Connector MD200 and would improve utilization of that new Maryland tollroad.

The ICC faced fierce 'green' opposition but overcame it. The ICC improves the quality of life and mobility for a million or so people in the northern Maryland suburbs.

The Dulles-Germantown VA28-MD200 connector would extend those improvements southwest.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-03-29

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