The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board voted July 19 to study the feasibility of an Upper Potomac River bridge as an option in the area’s long-range transportation plan.
Yet the discussion on even getting that far was “very intense,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Marc Elrich, Montgomery County councilmember who represents the county on the Transportation Planning Board, made a motion to pull discussion of the bridge from study but the vote was 17-12 to reject the amendment and leave it in, Schwartz said.
Schwartz’s group is opposed to the idea of the bridge, preferring area governments spend resources on improving the current Metro system and encouraging transit oriented development.
“There is a $6.2 billion shortfall for building and improving the Metro system,” he said. “And I hear various people say the American Legion Bridge will need major reconstruction [in the time it takes to study a second bridge],” he said.
“[The bridge] would be totally at odds with the region’s vision in the Region Forward Plan and would undermine the network of transit-oriented development which is so much in demand today. It would worsen auto-dependent sprawl and traffic, worsen the east-west economic divide, and undermine efforts to fight climate change,” Schwartz wrote in a press release.
In a phone interview he explained that a new bridge would not relieve traffic congestion on the American Legion Bridge, rather it would increase development leading to more commuters.
“Because of induced driving demand, it would add new traffic without reducing traffic at the American Legion Bridge,” he wrote in the press release. “The upstream bridge would also represent a threat to the region’s drinking water supplies — creating a risk of toxic spills upstream from drinking water intakes during bridge construction and from tanker truck spills.”
Schwartz said the largest opposition his group faces is the 2030 Group, the group urges the study of an outer Potomac River bridge, according to its website.
Neither the idea of a bridge study nor the controversy of the idea are new. Other efforts to move the idea of an outer bridge took place in 1980, 1988, 1997, 2000 and 2003, according to Schwartz.