Monday, July 20, 2009

Sierra Club Opposes I-270 Widening

Following is a letter from the Montgomery County Sierra Club to the County Council opposing I-270 widening.

July 19, 2009

Dear Councilmember ,

Re: Montgomery County Sierra Club Statement on I-270 / Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) Project Planning Study

The plans for widening I-270 reflect a business-as-usual philosophy, a throw-back to a 1950s “roads first” approach rather than a forward-looking one that emphasizes transit and smart growth. We know now that increasing road capacity inevitably leads to greater car use, and then to car-centric residential and commercial construction alongside the new capacity.

We do recognize that I-270 is congested as far out as Frederick, including traffic caused by diffuse employment centers in Montgomery County. But road widening is not the way to solve it and the options the Council is being asked to choose among represent a false choice. Right now you can either choose the straw-man “no-build” option or select one of the remaining options that differ from each other largely in how many new lanes of highway are built and whether any of the lanes will charge dynamic tolls or not. The impact on I-270 congestion of making improvements to public transportation is limited to looking at the Corridor Cities Transitway. The possibility that more extensive and robust additions to the County’s public transit system (over and above the CCT) might be as effective at reducing traffic congestion on I-270 as adding more lanes is not even considered.

The consequences of reaching a wrong decision within the confines of a false choice are serious. The financial cost of any of the alternatives is in the billions of dollars. Just as important are the environmental costs of choosing an alternative that will add several additional lanes of traffic traveling the length of the county.

In order to escape the confines of the false choice now before you, it is necessary to create and then analyze the impact on congestion of a comprehensive transit alternative serving the Corridor Cities and Frederick County. Such an alternative may cost less than widening I-270. A comprehensive transit solution would have a smaller environmental impact. It would support concentrated development at transit stations instead of promoting car-dependent, low-density development. It has the potential to help Montgomery County achieve the 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions called for in county legislation passed in 2008—something that having additional lanes of traffic on I-270 will never do.

We ask that you not select a Locally Preferred Alternative at the July 21st County Council meeting. Instead we request you postpone selecting a Locally Preferred Alternative until a comprehensive transit option is developed and its impact on projected congestion on I-270 is fully analyzed and compared to I-270 widening alternatives.

This is an opportunity for Montgomery County and Maryland to move away from the unsustainable approach of always responding to congestion by building more lanes of highway. At a time when destructive climate change seems increasingly likely in the not-so-distant future and rising oil prices affect our economic welfare today, we truly are at a fork in the road.


David Hauck
Sierra Club, Montgomery County Group