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Montgomery, Fairfax Counties Hold First Ever Joint Meeting

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Commuters slowly move over the American Legion Bridge, connecting Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.
(AP Photo/Leslie E. Kossoff)
Commuters slowly move over the American Legion Bridge, connecting Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.

Members of the Montgomery County Council and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors held their first-ever joint meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The two counties spend much of their time comparing themselves to one another and competing for businesses and residents, so the significance of this week's meeting was not lost on those who took part, including Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner.

"We are fierce competitors," said Berliner. "But now, we need to be fierce collaborators."

The entire meeting focused on transportation, with much of the discussion centered on the counties' one physical connection: the American Legion Bridge on the Capital Beltway. Both sides would like to see it expanded, with the possibility of some kind of rapid bus service on the span.

The latest estimate shows around 232,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily. Easing that congestion — which is getting worse on the Maryland side of the bridge — won't be easy says Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova.  

"In a perfect world, wouldn't it be great for us to be able to widen the bridge and provide lanes that could be dedicated to bus rapid transit, express bus, some kind of transit that could get people back and forth across the bridge," she said. 

In 1998, Metrobus did run a route that connected Gaithersburg, Bethesda, and Tyson's Corner by going across the bridge. But that route was discontinued just five years later because of low ridership; it averaged only six passengers per bus. That bus route did not have its own dedicated lanes, though, meaning busses would get stuck in traffic just like cars, something a rapid bus route would be able to avoid.

Expansion of the bridge and its surrounding roads was studied as recently as 2008, and cost estimates ran from $1 billion to nearly $3 billion. 

Montgomery County lawmakers also wanted to pick the brains of their Fairfax County counterparts about the Silver Line project. Specifically, they want to discuss the special taxing districts that were created by the county to help fund it. 

One of those districts is around Tyson's Corner, and Fairfax County supervisor Jeffrey McKay says gloomy predictions that higher taxes would hurt the area haven't come true, prompting a quick, humorous response from Berliner: "There's been a lot of talk about these increased costs. And we've been bombarded with applications right now for redevelopment. 'You can send them our way if it's too much for you to handle.'"

Montgomery County is looking at building an extensive countywide rapid bus system — the only idea floated to fund it locally is to raise property taxes, which has been met with stiff resistance from residents.

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