Transcripts

From A To B: New Potomac River Bridge Talks Continue

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Staying in the realm of history, we turn to a tale of what might have been. People have been clamoring for more bridges across the Potomac River since the 1960s and lately that clamoring is a little bit louder. And that's the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:31
Planners originally envisioned at least two more bridges connecting Maryland and Virginia and as transportation reporter, Martin Di Caro reports, people are pushing anew for those crossings.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

00:00:45
Drive across the American Legion Bridge in the middle of the day and traffic's not too bad. Try to do so a little bit later in the day during rush hour and it's a different story.

MR. LON ANDERSON

00:00:55
There's nothing in between the American Legion Bridge at the Beltway and Point of Rocks up in Frederick.

CARO

00:01:04
Lon Anderson is a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. He gets red-faced when talking about the need for a new bridge over the Potomac because in his view, a new bridge north of the Beltway should've been built decades ago. Ten years ago, he was a member of a task force appointed by the Montgomery County Executive to study it.

ANDERSON

00:01:20
And we got the planning board to model a bridge across the river in the Gaithersburg German town area. The modeling showed that the day that bridge opened, it would have 100,000 vehicles.

CARO

00:01:33
To AAA, it's a no brainer so what gives? Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Sean Connaughton, says he supports studying a new bridge. As he puts it, the Potomac is a river not an ocean and new bridges can be built across it. But his counterparts across the river are not as enthusiastic. A spokesman for the Maryland Department Transportation tells us, Maryland's priority regarding its Potomac crossings is the eventually replacement of the 71 year old Nice bridge in Charles County. An additional northern crossing of the Potomac is not a priority for Maryland at this time.

ANDERSON

00:02:04
Their commitment to improving congestion in the Washington metropolitan area is nil. It's a shame to have to say that, but they've had decades in which they could have made significant progress. They have not. They have not. It took them 40, 50 years to build the Inter-country connector.

CARO

00:02:21
Bob Chase shares Anderson's frustration. The executive director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance says planners in the 1960s accurately predicted the region's 2,000 population about 4.5 million people. They were right, he says, and he believes challenges raised by building a new bridge today can be surmounted.

MR. BOB CHASE

00:02:41
It is very clear and obvious that there are several possible ways that you could cross the Potomac and connect with the existing Maryland transportation network.

CARO

00:02:50
He says the best idea would be to extend Route 28 in Loudoun County near Dulles Airport across the river to I-270 in Maryland.

CHASE

00:02:57
Clearly, the commitment at this time does not exist in Maryland, but again, this was a plan that, you know, Maryland endorsed years ago.

CARO

00:03:05
Ron Kirby has been the director of transportation planning at the metropolitan Washington Council of Governments for 25 years. He says the main reason there is not another bridge over the Potomac today is that transportation plan designed a half century ago, called Year 2000, never made it out of the 1960s.

MR. RON KIRBY

00:03:22
The sort of freeway revolt set in. Those roads basically came off the plans.

CARO

00:03:27
He says building a new bridge now would be more difficult than it would've been because of two significant obstacles, homeowners and environmental groups.

KIRBY

00:03:35
In building along a new ride-away, you're going to impact communities that have developed in the assumption that there will be no such facility.

CARO

00:03:44
Chase says that should not stop Virginia and Maryland from at least studying it.

CHASE

00:03:49
I daresay there are no challenges here that cannot be overcome.

CARO

00:03:52
AAA says its own poll shows 75 percent of motorists want a new bridge built north of the Beltway, but the reality is such plans exist only on old maps.

CHASE

00:04:02
It means that we will continue to lead the nation in number of hours sitting in traffic and millions of gallons of gasoline being wasted.

CARO

00:04:10
Environmentalists and mass transit advocates argue we should not commit ourselves to new roads, which they claim would not solve our congestion problems. They favor spending what funding is available on better rail and bus options. But for now, the idea of a new bridge is just that, an idea, one that's been debated for half a century. I'm Martin Di Caro.

SHEIR

00:04:31
Do you think we need another bridge over the Potomac? Let us know by sending an email to metro@wamu.org.
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