RELEASE: Smart growth advocates push back against campaign for HOT lanes on Maryland’s I-270 with alternatives that acknowledge induced travel exists

September 19, 2016

Pete Tomao, Montgomery County Advocacy Manager
(516) 318-0605

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
(703) 599-6437

Smart growth advocates push back against campaign for HOT lanes on Maryland’s I-270 with alternatives that acknowledge induced travel exists

MARYLAND – Today, as part of a mounting campaign for high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on Maryland’s I-270, the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA) proposed significant expansion along the entire highway from the American Legion Bridge on I-495, north into Frederick County.

In response, advocates at the Coalition for Smarter Growth voiced concern over the approach laid out by SMTA’s Richard Parsons and released a package of more effective alternatives for the I-270 corridor.

“Mr. Parsons has effectively claimed that induced travel – the basic economic principle that building more roads causes more traffic – doesn’t exist, and that’s simply wrong,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Widened highways in metropolitan areas can fill up again in as little as five years.”

“We are releasing a package of approaches for the I-270 corridor in response to Mr. Parsons’ aggressive expansion campaign,” continued Schwartz. “Over two years ago, we were the group that recommended the first-ever summit of the Montgomery County Council and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, with the express purpose of addressing problems at the American Legion Bridge. So we’ve long been focused on smart fixes for this major commuting corridor.”

The Coalition for Smarter Growth recommended the following alternatives to end-to-end widening:

  1.  Near-term extension of the I-270 bus and HOV lane to and across the American Legion Bridge to provide an important option to driving alone and move more people, more quickly through the corridor.
  2. Expansion of MARC service from Frederick in accordance with the MARC investment plan, taking Frederick County residents to jobs in Montgomery and DC.
  3. Expanded commuter bus service on I-270 from Frederick County, and bus rapid transit along Route 355 from Bethesda to Clarksburg. Expanded express bus service from Clarksburg to Shady Grove Metro.
  4. Transit-oriented development along the Red Line in Montgomery County to handle population growth without increasing regional traffic, and enhancing the county’s competitiveness.
  5. A smart growth comprehensive plan for Frederick County, to create walkable development with good access to transit, while conserving farms and forests and reducing the amount residents have to drive.
  6. Continued protection of Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve and major drinking water supplies.
  7. Longer-term connection of Metrorail or light rail between the Silver and Red Lines, after Metro’s rehabilitation is complete and the system is adequately funded.

“Induced travel is a very real problem. It can mean billions of wasted tax and toll dollars spent on road expansions that don’t provide long-term solutions,” said Schwartz. “That’s the path Parson’s wants to lead us on. So, while we can focus on fixing key road bottlenecks, we need to apply the rest of our resources to providing transit options and ensuring more efficient patterns of land development. Linking walkable communities with transit is the only long-term effective way to improve access to jobs and daily needs and maintain our economic competitiveness.”

In 1999, the Washington Post published a groundbreaking article documenting the induced travel effect of a previous expansion of I-270 from 8 lanes to 12 lanes. A huge volume of academic research has documented induced travel. Much of it has been compiled and summarized by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute in his paper Generated Traffic and Induced Travel, Implications for Transport Planning, 12 September 2016.

“We understand that Mr. Parsons may be talking about a public-private partnership (P3) for HOT lanes, like those in Virginia, but we don’t like to see the P3 tail wag the transportation dog. Before jumping to the conclusion that HOT lanes, and private ones at that, are the way to go for I-270, we need to look at the effects on land use and long-distance commuting, the fact that transit routinely gets the short end of the stick in these deals, and evaluate the more effective long-term approach of smart growth with transit,” said Schwartz. “P3 deals concern us because they divert significant resources — usually in large federal loans — away from transit investments, and often give all profits to the private contractor for 75 years.”

“In short, we support a package of short-term transit and HOV investments like those at the American Legion Bridge, long-lasting transit investments like Marc, Metrorail, and BRT combined with more efficient land use, and a very deliberative approach to studying the issues with full recognition of the problem of induced travel,” concluded Schwartz.

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at