The Multi-Modal Corridor Study

by Virgil Soule. 0 Comments

I started this blog in part to provide a forum for discussing the State’s plans for future development of I-270. I have used I-270 for more than thirty years as a commuter and as a casual user. Though I am now retired, I retain an engineering interest in I-270 and its problems. I think the State’s plans for I-270 are flawed. My goal is to show why that is so.

The Maryland State Highway Administration has for a number of years now been working on the I-270/US15 Multi-Modal Corridor Study  as a vehicle for studying the feasibility and preliminary design of proposed upgrades to I-270 between the Capital Beltway and Frederick. The MMCS has been quite comprehensive and has included studies of possible upgrades to I-270 itself, alternative transportation modes (e.g., passenger rail), and subsidiary issues like land use and environmental concerns.

In June, 2009, hearings were held in Frederick and Gaithersburg to provide a public forum for discussion of the current status of the MMCS. As is my wont, I came upon the MMCS rather late in the process after reading about the hearings in the News-Post. Nevertheless, I feel constrained to put in my proverbial two-cents-worth.

For the hearings, the SHA provided a descriptive brochure (q.v.) that is an excellent source of information about the MMCS. My own review of the proposed I-270/US15 upgrade is based on data published in the brochure.

SHA’s proposed expansion plan for the I-270 corridor is two-fold: First, they are proposing to add two additional Express Toll Lanes each way primarily in Frederick County (but no more free lanes). Secondly, they are proposing to build a light-rail Corridor Cities Transit-way linking Shady Grove Metro with Clarksburg via Gaithersburg and Germantown. The projected cost of the ETL upgrade is about $4 billion plus another billion for the CCT.

I consider the ETL upgrade to be ill-advised and wasteful. Express Toll Lanes are a current fad in urban highway design (along with HOV lanes). The idea is that, for the small price of a toll, commuters will travel at higher speeds in restricted-access lanes bypassing the congestion in the free open lanes. It’s one of those nice, shiny, elitist ideas that won’t solve the over-all congestion problem and will return virtually nothing in toll income to the State’s coffers.

The thing about engineers is that they use numbers to understand how things work and what’s good and what’s bad. My plan is to present some basic calculations in order to demonstrate why the ETL won’t meet the needs of the greater commuting population traveling through Frederick County and why a simpler alternative plan (no ETL, one additional free lane each way) will be cheaper and more effective.

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