For the thousands of Frederick County residents who travel congested Interstate 270 on weekday mornings and afternoons, traffic in 2040 will be just as bad as it is now — if not worse, according to a new study by regional transportation planners.
The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board — a group of elected officials that plans transportation improvements in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area — released a study on Nov. 28 that projected Frederick County’s population would increase 38 percent by 2040, with the county’s job growth only rising by 16 percent.
That means the 110,200 vehicles that currently travel down I-270 transporting county residents to jobs in Montgomery County, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, will only increase, officials said.
“There is not enough growth in employment, so commuters will continue to commute out of the county,” said Ron Kirby, the board’s transportation planning director.
Kirby said over the next 27 years, dramatic job growth is expect to occur in Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, but not in Frederick County.
“Regionally, employment growth is growing at a faster [rate] than the population,” he said. “But in Frederick it’s the other way around. The outer counties [like Frederick] will continue to be bedroom communities.”
Kirby said Loudoun County will see the most growth in jobs because of its proximity to the Dulles Airport and the Dulles Toll Road.
“There is also a big influx of high-tech jobs and defense spending in Virginia,” he said. “It is the fastest-growing area in the region.”
Frederick County Commissioner C. Paul Smith (R), who serves on the transportation planning board, said the report’s findings are valid, but he thinks job growth in the county will be higher by 2040.
Recent improvements to the Frederick Municipal Airport, such as a new tower and runway, should help attract jobs, he said.
Smith also said that the report does not take into account the Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ business-friendly efforts, such as making it easier to obtain building permit fees and loosening growth-control regulations.
“I don’t believe they are taking into account what we are doing right here,” he said. “I think we will actually do better than those projections. But we need to focus on jobs here, and whatever happens with residential growth will happen.”
The traffic findings of the planning board’s Long-Range Transportation Plan, which looked at population and job growth in the metropolitan region from 2013 to 2040, are bleak.
The region’s population is projected to grow by 24 percent to almost 6.5 million people, with the outer counties growing even faster, while employment is also expected to expand by 36 percent, but only in Virginia, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the study said.
The downside is the number of vehicle trips on the roads each day are projected to jump from 17 million to 21.4 million, further clogging highways that are already congested with traffic, the study said.
Congestion is expected to increase on Interstate 95, Interstate 70, Interstate 270, Interstate 66, Interstate 395, the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia, and the Capital Beltway in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
What’s worse, the money needed to expand and improve those highways will not be available, according to the study.
The same can be said for Metro train service.
“The Metrorail system will likely reach capacity on trips to and through the regional core, due to lack of funding for capacity enhancements,” the study said. “Without additional railcars beyond those currently funded, all lines entering the core will become congested by 2040.”
Frederick Alderman Carol Krimm (D), who is also a member of the transportation planning board, said the findings are shocking.
“Elected officials and policymakers need to take note of these projections and change direction,” Krimm said in an email.
“We can no longer compartmentalize transportation and land use decisions. In this 30-year time frame, Frederick County’s population increases by 38 percent but the county’s job growth only increases by 16 percent while other regional counties outpace Frederick County’s job growth by 20 percent to 60 percent. The live-here, work-here concept can no longer be a concept but a policy that is complemented with funding.”
Krimm has already proposed bus shoulders along I-270 to help relieve traffic congestion. In September, her colleagues on the transportation planning board agreed to form a task force to study the feasibility of allowing bus-only shoulders to run from Frederick to Montgomery counties.
The task force will also look at putting bus shoulders on portions of the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95.
“Our growth has outpaced our regional transportation infrastructure for quite some time,” Krimm said. “Innovative transportation funding mechanisms must be part of the conservation at the federal, state and local levels. Taxpaying citizens need a better response and plan to address our congested roads than to expect more of the same.”
In response to the findings, the transportation planning board plans to send a letter to lawmakers in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., suggesting ways to increase revenue for transportation improvements, such as increasing the gas tax.
Maryland has not raised its 23.5 cents-per-gallon gas tax since 1992, and although Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed adding the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gasoline earlier this year, the proposal stalled in the legislature.
The governor has not yet decided whether to reintroduce the proposal in the 2013 legislative session.