- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Most Washington suburbanites say another Potomac River bridge is needed, according to a survey released yesterday by AAA.
The study also found that 63 percent of licensed drivers say using cellular phones while driving poses a serious safety hazard.
The central theme of AAA's Mid-Atlantic Transportation Poll 2001 was that Washington traffic is bad and getting worse. Bad enough, in some cases, that nearly 16 percent of the 450 drivers surveyed said they are considering moving to another city because of the area's traffic problems.
AAA warned that congestion, which drivers ranked as the area's second-worst traffic problem after aggressive driving, will start hurting the local economy unless more bridges are built and roadways are expanded.
Robert Grow, transportation director for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said he agreed with AAA's warning about the economic threat.
"It's just hard to get people to come to certain parts of the region because traffic is so bad, in combination with the fact affordable housing is hard to get," he said. "I've heard employers say they hire people from Montgomery County (Md.) to work in the high-tech area of Northern Virginia. After a couple of months they say, 'Forget it. I can't do it.' "
Motorists surveyed from Montgomery, Fairfax (Va.) and Loudoun (Va.) counties ranked a new Potomac crossing north of the American Legion Bridge as a high priority for improving traffic flow. The proposed "Techway" bridge would link the Washington Dulles International Airport area with the Interstate 270 corridor in Montgomery County and allow thousands of suburb-to-suburb drivers to avoid the Beltway. In Montgomery County, 80 percent of the people surveyed favored a new bridge; 87 percent favored it in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
The strongest opposition to the Techway bridge comes from the Montgomery County Council. In the fall, it voted 9-0 to block a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments feasibility study of the bridge. Last week, the Montgomery County Council began considering a "Potomac Master Plan" for development that does not include a new bridge.
The council says current proposals for a new bridge would disrupt communities it would cross and use land set aside for agriculture.
"This would destroy 50 years of sound land-use planning," said Howard Denis, Potomac-Bethesda Republican. "This simply is not going to fly. You have to protect your ecosystem. You don't want to destroy your water quality and other parts of the environment."
The County Council has said it might support a new bridge if it is aligned to avoid such disruptions, similar to one that runs from Point of Rocks in Frederick County, Md., to Loudoun County.
Drivers rated aggressive driving as the area's worst traffic problem in AAA's annual survey. Fifty-four percent said it has become worse in the last year.
They say the best solutions are more police enforcement of speeding laws and higher fines for violators, the survey showed. Their support for speed bumps and roundabouts in neighborhoods to deter speeders was lukewarm.
The greatest support for police to write more tickets came from Northern Virginia, where 83 percent of residents wanted tougher enforcement of speeding laws. Among Maryland suburban residents, 72 percent wanted more enforcement.
Although drivers say cell phones are a hazard, they still want to be able to use them in their cars. Fifty-eight percent said drivers should be allowed to use them while driving. In other words, said AAA spokesman Lon Anderson, "They believe the benefits outweigh the risks."
Last week, a Maryland House committee killed a proposal to forbid drivers from speaking on cell phones. The Virginia General Assembly has knocked down similar proposals.
The AAA poll results agree with findings from a regional transportation summit convened in November by the Council of Governments' planning board. The board concluded that it needs $1.7 billion per year more than is available to make all the transportation improvements required for the Washington area.
To help win public support for more funding, the planning board last week began running an hour-long video on local cable television channels that summarizes November's transportation summit. The video, called "A System in Crisis," shows local elected leaders talking about political fiascoes that gave the Washington area the second-worst traffic congestion in the United States, as ranked by the Texas Transportation Institute. Only Los Angeles has worse congestion.
"There is a very clear recognition there that the funding problem is getting severe," said Ron Kirby, transportation planning director for the Council of Governments.
Both the Maryland and Virginia legislatures are considering spending proposals to resolve traffic problems in the area.
Speakers at AAA's downtown news conference yesterday agreed that bad politics was a main culprit in current traffic problems.
"It was elected officials who let the folks who want to build absolutely nothing near anything lead the day," said John Kane, a Board of Trade member and president of Office Movers Inc. "Failed political leadership was the root and cause of the problem."
Other results of the AAA survey include:
Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Washington-area drivers rate the region's traffic as bad; 31 percent rate it as good.
Northern Virginians were most critical of local traffic conditions, with three-quarters rating traffic as bad; 56 percent of suburban Marylanders rated traffic negatively.
Washington-area motorists said their worst traffic hazards are aggressive driving (49 percent), congestion (28 percent), large trucks (7 percent), overall road conditions (7 percent) and drunken drivers (6 percent).
More than half of motorists (55 percent) say they have cell phones in their cars; 18 percent reported being in an accident or near-accident because of some other driver's cell-phone use.
More than eight of 10 (83 percent) Virginia drivers support restricting new teen drivers from driving between midnight and 5 a.m.; 67 percent of Washington-area drivers want limits on the number of teen-age passengers who may ride with a new teen driver. The Virginia Senate has passed a proposal to raise the legal driving age by three months and restrict the number of passengers young drivers can transport; the bill has been returned to the House of Delegates for final approval.

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