Maryland seems to be moving in the right direction on transportation projects that will eventually make life a little better for Frederick County commuters, both those traveling down to Montgomery County for work and those driving to their jobs within our county.
Our two nightmarish major arteries — U.S. 15 through the city and Interstate 270 to Montgomery County and beyond — are now slated for improvements, both small and large.
First up, a plan to ease a little of the traffic crush on U.S. 15 where motorists traveling west on Md. 26 try to join the southbound freeway. The State Highway Administration recently announced funding to extend the on-ramp to southbound U.S. 15 between Md. 26 and Motter Avenue, the next exit.
That short stretch of road has sudden, severe backups every day, and the line of cars trying to go south backs up for a considerable distance on Md. 26. The plan is the new lane will give drivers a little more time to merge, facilitating a smoother transition.
Another bottleneck should ease up eventually as work nears completion on the Md. 85 intersection with I-270.
Then come the really big changes.
The biggest is the project to add lanes — likely toll lanes — to I-270 to reduce congestion between Frederick and the Capital Beltway in Montgomery County. This project should have begun decades ago. The need was clear as early as the 1980s, but governmental inertia is stubborn.
Gov. Larry Hogan deserves credit for championing the project, and getting it moving. Frederick County residents will have several opportunities this month to get information about the project and to give their opinions.
The SHA plans to hold four workshops, including two in Frederick County: on Nov. 13 at Lincoln Recreation Center at Lincoln Elementary School, 200 Madison St. in Frederick, and Nov. 20 at Urbana Fire Department Banquet Hall, 3602 Urbana Pike in Urbana. Each will last from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., including a brief presentation at 7 p.m.
Under the state’s current plan, the southern section of I-270, from Shady Grove Road to the Capital Beltway, would be built first. The section from Interstate 370 to Interstate 70 would follow.
That strikes us as the reverse of what is needed, since traffic crawls south in the morning and north in the afternoon on the northern section of the road. The worst congestion seems to be where I-270 is just two lanes, from Clarksburg north.
Frederick commuters traveling to and from Rockville and Bethesda might get some relief, but they will still endure horrific traffic during much of their journey. And it is only getting worse as development continues here.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner also warned SHA officials of another consideration. Widening U.S. 15 through the city of Frederick, from I-70 to Md. 26, remains the county’s top transportation need, Gardner said, but that project needs to be finished before the I-270 widening.
U.S. 15 in that stretch already fails in its capacity at both morning and evening rush hour, and the peak hours are getting longer, Gardner pointed out. If I-270 were widened first, the resulting traffic jams on northbound U.S. 15 in the afternoon would be catastrophic.
All of this means that SHA must carefully coordinate the planning for both I-270 and U.S. 15, to properly stage the work and achieve the best results.
Of course, Maryland must also work to improve transit options all along the corridor to get as many motorists out of their cars as possible. A new park-and-ride lot, which was built as part of the new Monocacy Boulevard interchange at U.S. 15, should be a big help.
Maryland Transit Administration announced last week that the commuter bus service to the Shady Grove Metro station in Montgomery County will start half of its routes from the new park and ride. Commuters coming from north of Frederick will no longer have to drive through the city to board at the MARC station downtown or at the Urbana lot.
Numerous changes, both small and big, will be needed to reduce the burden on Frederick commuters, but we are hopeful that we are beginning to see progress.