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Maryland Dreaming of Route 5 Upgrade

The Maryland State Highway Administration has a plan to improve the drive along Branch Avenue in Prince George's County for tens of thousands of travelers, and no money to build it. That's typical for such a large project at this point in its development, and it's not a crisis, but it does reflect the depth of need for transportation improvements in our region.

md5 study area SHA.jpg SHA map of Route 5 project area.

Maryland has eliminated or delayed more than a half billion dollars in transportation projects because of revenue declines stemming from the recession. The Route 5 project wasn't one of them, because it's not as far along as those others. Route 5 has state money for planning, but not design or construction.

Scores of people stopped by a State Highway Administration workshop last night to get an update on the planning. There should be a hearing next winter on location and design plans, followed by state approvals in spring 2011, if the schedule holds.

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari, like his counterparts in the District and Virginia and at Metro, is looking forward to using the federal stimulus money to advance some of the projects that have been delayed by lack of money. The Route 5 project is not shovel-ready, so it's not in line for stimulus spending.

But like dozens of other transportation programs in the Washington region, it could benefit from a national campaign to reinvest in our road and transit network over the next decade.

The Route 5 improvements, which could cost more than a billion dollars to construct under some of the more ambitious plans, would stretch from the junction with Route 301 about 10 miles to the interchange with the Capital Beltway. Alternatives include widening the highway to four lanes north of Woodyard Road and to three lanes between Woodyard and Route 301. The junctions with Surratts Road and Burch Hill Road also could be upgraded to ease traffic flow.

More elaborate plans would add managed lanes in the middle of the highway. They could be carpool lanes, electronic toll lanes, or a combination of the two similar to the High Occupancy or Toll (HOT) lanes now under construction on the western side of the Beltway in Virginia.

I'd prefer to see some version of the managed lanes with tolling that includes carpooling and bus transit, rather than a simple widening of the highway. Even if we get serious about improving the nation's infrastructure, we're past the point of getting everything we want through vast infusions of federal money. We should look toward public-private partnerships on construction and tolling in financing and traffic management.

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  February 25, 2009; 7:59 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Construction , Driving , Transportation Politics  
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