2014 | Real Estate

SHA: Old Georgetown Road Needs Lanes to Handle Traffic Volume

Department chief says controversial White Flint road design is a phase-in approach and grid network needs to be established before lanes can be reduced on roadway

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The new design being planned for a stretch of Old Georgetown Road in White Flint is similar to what is currently there as shown in this 2009 photo. Critics say it's inhospitable to bikers and pedestrians.

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The State Highway Administration on Friday confirmed plans by Montgomery County to rebuild a portion of Old Georgetown Road as a commuter thoroughfare near new development in White Flint.

Steven Foster, chief of the SHA’s access management division, said future road improvements in White Flint will eventually create a grid system that will allow engineers to reduce the number of lanes on Old Georgetown Road. However, a county traffic study showed that the current traffic volume is too high to allow lane reduction to take place now.

“It’s a phase-in approach,” Foster said.

Friends of White Flint, a nonprofit that advocates for the implementation of the White Flint sector plan, heavily criticized the roadway design last week after one of its board members reviewed the county’s most recent plans, which include six travel lanes and additional turn lanes, but no dedicated bike lane on the stretch between Rockville Pike and Executive Boulevard. The sector plan called for four travel lanes, a shared use path and a dedicated bike lane.

A diagram posted on the Friends of White Flint website, which the nonprofit says shows the differences between the county and state's plan for the road compared to the master plan. (click to enlarge)

Foster said SHA worked cooperatively with the county and developers to make sure the roadway design on the state road would be appropriate for the first phase of the White Flint sector plan. He said “everybody agreed” about the six-lane design with turning lanes. The design also includes a 4-foot shoulder that Foster said makes it a “bicycle-compatible” roadway.

“If we reduce it to four lanes, you’ll have Christmas-time traffic backup,” Foster said.

According to Foster, the county’s traffic study showed vehicles would regularly back up into the newly built intersection of Grand Park Avenue and Old Georgetown Road if two left-hand turn lanes weren’t built at what would be a new intersection where Old Georgetown meets Executive Boulevard.

Foster said the new intersection will also allow the county to rebuild Hoya Street and connect it to Old Georgetown, which would allow commuters heading south on Rockville Pike to jump on Hoya before Montrose Parkway and travel to Old Georgetown Road. On the opposite side, commuters heading north on Old Georgetown Road could continue traveling north on Hoya Street to reach Rockville Pike, potentially eliminating a significant volume of traffic on the debated portion of Old Georgetown, he said.

(Debated portion of Old Georgetown Road highlighted. Future connection of Hoya Street in blue to be located at newly built intersection. Plan is to rebuild the intersection of Hoya Street, Executive Boulevard and Old Georgetown Road into a four-way intersection with stop lights.)

Construction of the new intersection along with  other infrastructure improvements detailed in the 30-year sector plan such as a Bus Rapid Transit system on Rockville Pike and the addition of other streets in the developing region, should  reduce traffic enough so that lanes later could be reduced on Old Georgetown, Foster said.

“As everything is built and traffic shifts, we can evaluate,” he said. “Everyone has to take a deep breath.”

He said the current design of the road won’t prohibit proposed elements in the sector plan such as the shared use path and bike lane from being built in the future.

“We need to have the grid system in place before the roadway’s traffic will be replaced,” Foster said.

Councilmember Roger Berliner, who has worked extensively on issues in White Flint, said the roadway design reflects more lanes than “many of us feel is appropriate for this space.”

He said planners should make construction of the Hoya Street connection a priority.

“That’s the game changer that should allow us to achieve what our original vision was from the beginning,” Berliner said.

Barnaby Zall, the founder and a current board member of Friends of White Flint, wrote today in a blog post on the nonprofit’s website that the plan proposed by the county and state highlights a trust issue between the White Flint community and county traffic planners and engineers.

Zall wrote that the group was surprised to learn about the county’s plans for the roads, considering this area was planned as a walkable, bikeable urban community.

Zall called on County Executive Isiah Leggett, who Zall said promised the group he would help make the sector plan’s goals a reality, to walk across the traffic lanes on Old Georgetown Road to make a public commitment to creating a walkable area.

“Make your statement right there,” Zall wrote. “Make that statement clear. Montgomery County Department of Transportation should become the Department of Mobility, to reflect the new direction the county must move in. Embrace it, and the community that has asked for it. Set the tone again.”