I-270 Improvements Will Reduce Travel Times, Governor Says

I-270 Improvements Will Reduce Travel Times, Governor Says

Montgomery County leaders say lane additions and new technology should be a first step toward a long-term solution for the congested highway

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Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a press conference at Park Potomac Wednesday about improvements to I-270

Andrew Metcalf

Gov. Larry Hogan provided more details Wednesday about a $105 million project to reduce traffic congestion along the crowded I-270 corridor, but admitted the plan to add new lanes and invest in traffic management technology won’t be a “magic fix” for the highway.

The state partnered with 16 engineering and construction firms to design the improvements that will add lanes to existing shoulders on the highway from Fredrick to Bethesda, install cameras and sensors to monitor traffic flow and redesign merge areas where bottlenecks develop.

“We challenged the most creative minds in the transportation industry to think outside the box and come up with some real innovative solutions to help vehicles move more quickly, more safely and more efficiently along the I-270 corridor,” Hogan said at a press conference at Park Potomac as cars raced by on the highway behind him. “Instead of sitting in traffic, people will be more productive at work, spend more time with their family or simply have more time doing anything besides sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-270.”

The state estimates construction will begin in the fall and be completed by 2019.

The improvements would not widen the highway, but replace existing shoulders and merge lanes with more lanes such as where I-270 south meets the outer loop of I-495.

Planned ramp and merge improvemnts shown on a handout provided to reporters at the press conference.

The new technology would include ramp metering—traffic signals that require drivers to stop on an entrance ramp to the highway and allows the vehicles to proceed when there are lulls in traffic—as well as digital signs every mile to warn drivers if there is a crash in the local or express lanes.

The state estimated the improvements would reduce travel times between I-70 in Frederick and Father Hurley Boulevard in Germantown by 30 minutes and between the Intercounty Connector in Gaithersburg and Montrose Road in Rockville by nine minutes.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett thanked Hogan for pursuing the improvements, which he said utilizes existing funding that can be used now to reduce gridlock.

He said other proposed ideas to reduce congestion on the highway—such as reversible toll lanes that extend along I-270 and I-495 to Virginia—would likely be a more effective way to reduce traffic on the road, but building such improvements as toll lanes is more costly and funds are not currently available.

“There are a number of things we could do, but are they realistic?” Leggett said. “If you’re talking about something that’s going to take a longer period of time and cost much more money, I think that will be a challenge.”

He said the state should continue to lobby the federal government for money for more significant improvements, but added, “we’ll be lobbying for the next 10 years.”

County Council President Roger Berliner on Wednesday delivered a letter signed by all nine council members to the governor that called for extending the southbound HOV lane on the highway so that it begins in Clarksburg. The letter also asked for state investment in the county’s proposed Corridor Cities Transitway bus rapid transit project in the Gaithersburg area as well as to add reversible toll lanes to I-270.

Berliner said in an interview before the press conference that Hogan should lobby President Donald Trump’s administration for federal funds to improve the highway.

“We feel like what the governor really needs to do is go to the president who has made this major commitment to infrastructure and point to major choke points in the region and in the nation that actually hurt commerce and the quality of life and say ‘Start there when you have an infrastructure funding program’,” Berliner said.

He said the improvements announced by Hogan must “be the beginning of the story, not the end of the story.”

Hogan said the state will continue to seek additional funds for more improvements to the highway.

“When it comes to solving the problems of congestion in Montgomery County and on I-270 particularly, these improvements are obviously not a magic fix or the only solution to the massive traffic congestion on I-270,” he said. “But they certainly will provide some noticeable relief of congestion as we continue to work with our federal and local partners on longer-term solutions.”

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