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December 12, 2011

Answering Transportation Needs

Michael Kurtianyk

Holidays seem to bring out the best in people, what with all the celebrations, etc. However, I was recently a guest at the first annual Maryland Transportation Awards Dinner held at the North Bethesda Marriott.


I was able to meet quite a number of people from across the state who continue to have a hand in making regional transportation a reality in Maryland. The event was hosted by the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA), whose mission is as follows:


To educate policymakers and residents of Suburban Maryland on the real choices we face in improving transportation in the Greater Washington region, to advocate for increased funding for transportation including mass transit and roads, and to encourage leaders at the local, state and regional levels to commit those funds to cost-effective capacity improvements that do.


Doug Duncan, the chairman of SMTA, is former Montgomery County executive. He was the emcee, and the program included remarks by David Winstead and Robert Flanagan, both former state secretaries of Transportation, and Richard Parsons, the current president of SMTA. The award winners were Doug Simmons, state highway administration Inter County Connector (ICC) project team representative, and Caitlyn Hughes Rayman, assistant secretary of Transportation.


Overall, the evening was a celebration of the ICC, which opened to the public November 22. For those who are not familiar with it, the ICC connects the I-270/I-370 with the I-95/US 1 corridors within central and eastern Montgomery County and northwestern Prince George's County. This highway extends about 19 miles and will include new interchanges and bridges. Among other things, the ICC will be toll-operated (but without toll booths), and is state-of-the-art.


The ICC Project is not new. In fact, it has been studied since the 1950s, when the Outer Beltway was first proposed. In 1968, the plan for an Outer Beltway was dropped, but the ICC link between I-270 and US 1 was kept.


In 1998, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) convened a panel of national and local experts known as the Transportation Solutions Group (TSG) to make recommendations for improving the road system in the region.


A majority of the group recommended providing improved access through a new east-west, tolled, limited access road project. Then, in 2002, the Montgomery County Council’s Transportation Policy Report Task Force (TPR-2) issued its final report, which contained arguments for and against the ICC, with a majority of Task Force members in support of the project.


In September 2002, President George W. Bush issued Executive Order 13274, entitled Environmental Stewardship and Transportation Infrastructure Project Reviews, which included the formation of a Federal Transportation Infrastructure Streamlining Task Force. This group was tasked to oversee some priority road projects.


Based on a request from Congressman Robert Ehrlich and County Executive Douglas Duncan, the U.S. secretary of the transportation designated the ICC project as one of 15 transportation projects to be included, with state and federal oversight.


This project would surely have fallen by the wayside in today’s political climate. It would not have succeeded in the adversarial partisan politics occurring in Washington.


As the ICC Project continues, all political leaders and activists should get involved with the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance in order to help realize this dream. This ICC Project will increase community mobility and safety and provide a cost-effective transportation infrastructure to serve existing and future development patterns.


Much of the credit goes to the people at SMTA and the ICC Project leaders. Let’s hope they can continue their efforts.


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