The $2 Billion Dollar Question
Traffic congestion is on the minds of citizens in Frederick County. Some folks believe we need to stop growth until we get traffic under control; others believe we will never control traffic.
Interstate-270 is federal highways/; i.e., it is maintained, repaired, and paid for by the federal government. Neither The City of Frederick nor Frederick County, even if they had the cash to improve I-270, could do so without permission from the federal government!!
No improvements can be made to I-270 until a thorough study, which is in process, is completed. It started in the late 1980's and the results should be available before 2010.
But why is it taking so long?
Before improvements can be made, the federal highway bureaucrats must prove to the National Park Service that there is no way to widen I-270 without disturbing the Monocacy Battlefield Historic Park. This highway transects the battlefield. So, get over it. The battlefield will be disturbed.
What about the possibility of extending the D.C. Metro from Shady Grove to Frederick? It is possible and the options are simple. It could go up the median between the north and southbound lanes of I-270; or somewhere else. Simple ... median of I-270; over or under the bridges along I-270.
The big question is how many lanes should be added if that is the route selected to relieve congestion. It really doesn't matter. While the expansion occurs traffic will be horrible and nobody will be happy; and five years after the construction is completed it will need to have more lanes added.
A bigger question is how many dollars will it take to add lanes and/or extend the Metro? Two billion dollars is the current estimate. How many projects are you aware of that the federal government has funded which cost $2 billion? The War in Iraq! Katrina! The answer is simple. Not many! And it is not likely to happen here anytime soon.
Why is adding lanes to I-270 so unlikely? It would take all of our elected officials at the city, county, state and federal governments to sit down and figure out how to make this happen; then they would need the support of Congress to provide the funding! Not bloody likely!!
There are numerous political reasons Congress will not add lanes to I-270. First, there will never be enough roads, or lanes on existing roads, and we need to encourage public transportation.
Second, why should Pennsylvania and West Virginia's members of Congress vote to improve roads in Maryland? Eventually, the companies to which people are commuting will move to where their employees live, thus creating a great tax base and high paying jobs for their states. That is why we have Bechtel in Frederick. Many of Bechtel's employees already lived here.
Third, how will Pennsylvania and West Virginia residents evaluate their elected officials if their politicians vote to give money to Maryland roads, and therefore can't fund projects in their own backyard? Not a good political move if you want to be re-elected.
Do the citizens of Frederick County want their commissioners to spend $2 billion to add lanes to I-270? Isn't it silly to spend lots of money to get people to leave Frederick? If we wait ... and traffic gets worse ... large Corporations will move to Frederick because their workers are tired of commuting. We might get more "Bechtels."
Even if the Multi Modal Study on I-270 was completed today, the engineering would take another five years, then another five years to complete construction - if we actually had the $2 billion to spend.
So ... what can be done?
The citizens and the governments of Frederick County and its municipalities can sit down together and plan how and where to build and fund roads in the county wide. The State Highway Administration estimates that if we complete a loop road that is now 50% complete, and that has been planned since 1959, 30 percent of the traffic congestion in and around Frederick City, where U.S. 15, U.S. 340, I-70, and I-270 intersect, would be eliminated.
The loop road starts near the airport, crosses MD 26 and U.S. 15 near Walkersville, goes behind Fort Detrick then intersects U. S. 40 near I-70, close to the Fredericktown Mall. Imagine a beltway east of Frederick.
What's the greatest thing about this road? Most of what is built was paid for by developers and it's already 50% complete! If the planning is expedited, and our governments focus on doing this, it could be completed within five years. This would eliminate 30% of the traffic congestion on our major roads!!
What are we waiting for? We have already waited since 1959 ... that's 47 years of sitting in traffic. What are ... we ... waiting ... for?
Why we should focus on the Loop Road?
Many years ago Dr. Steven Covey wrote a book called the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." In this book he broke things down into categories: "Sphere of Influence" and "Sphere of Concern". Highly Effective People focus on the things they can influence, the "Sphere of Influence."
We are concerned with I-270. We can Influence what happens with our Loop Road. We can fix 30% of our traffic congestion. If we build the Loop Road, getting our residents around Frederick becomes easier. If we widen I-270, it becomes easier for other states to get their commuters through our town.
It's our money. We must spend it wisely! Elect the right people to lead Frederick County for the next four years.
Anybody can talk a good game. When it comes to building roads, it's time to find out how our candidates will make it happen. Ask the tough questions ... and VOTE!!
Billy Shreve can be contacted at email@example.com