Monday, September 21, 2009

MDOT Raises Concerns on Gaithersburg West

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and two of its subordinate organizations, the State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), sent a letter of concern to the Montgomery County Council over the pending Gaithersburg West Sector Plan. Their points raise doubt as to whether the plan, which proposes 20 million square feet of commercial space, can pass in its current form.

MDOT’s four-page letter, which we reprint below, raises issues centered around three areas.

1. Sequencing with CCT
MDOT points out that the plan requires realignment of the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) through the Life Sciences Center but MDOT has not yet picked an alignment or mode for the project. MDOT says:

The entire sector plan requires some form of the CCT (funding, construction etc.) to be in place. We would like to bring to your attention that neither the determination on the feasibility of the realignment or a selection of the locally preferred alternative or mode have been made. We recommend that the sector plan approval be delayed until these decisions are made. The proper sequencing of plans, one for land use and the other for transportation infrastructure, is especially significant in this sector plan. It would be counter-productive to increase the density in the sector plan area if it was revealed that the realignment is not cost-effective and the transit project could not be realized.
2. Cost of Infrastructure Improvements
MDOT estimates the cost of realigning the CCT through the Life Sciences Center and rebuilding interchanges to be $1.3 billion. Additionally, they say that the county’s requests for state projects currently total $800 million and that the cost of improvements to I-270 and the Beltway could exceed $7 billion. MDOT states, “Given the current economic and fiscal climate, we suggest that a financial feasibility analysis be added as part of this document to fully demonstrate the viability of the proposed development program.”

3. Imbalance of Jobs and Housing
MDOT notes that one version of the plan provides for 47,000 more jobs than households in the area, and that the recommendations of the Planning Board may lead to an even bigger imbalance. That imbalance will result in greater commuting levels to Gaithersburg from across the Washington region, and without additional lanes and I-270 ramp modifications, would mean that “over 21,000 new daily trips will be forced onto the local road network resulting in severe congestion.”

Let’s sum this up in one sentence: the Maryland Department of Transportation believes the state may not be able to afford to build the significant number of infrastructure improvements necessary to prevent this plan in its current form from creating gridlock. That’s a serious blow to the advocates of Science City.

MDOT’s letter appears below.