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Senator Mark Warner: Region Needs New Potomac River Bridge

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AMERICAN LEGION BRIDGE
The Capital Beltway travels over the American Legion Bridge between Maryland and Virginia. | Getty

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) thinks the D.C. region needs additional bridges crossing the Potomac River, an issue that's often the third-rail of regional planning politics.

Speaking on WAMU-FM's "Politics Hour," the former governor said "we can't keep funneling the traffic into these few choke points across the river," like the American Legion Bridge, which carries the Capital Beltway between Montgomery County and Fairfax County.

To Warner, a lack of infrastructure investment is limiting long-term economic prosperity in the region: "Infrastructure which in the capital region helped us grow is now is becoming a choke point and going to kill the golden goose where the jobs are, whether they're in Montgomery County, [Prince George's County] or out in Northern Virginia, in the Dulles corridor and elsewhere. And we've been talking about it for 10 or 15 years … Unfortunately, the progress has been at best incremental."

Smart-growth advocates have opposed a new Potomac River bridge between Maryland and Virginia for years, saying that it will only increase vehicular traffic, lead to the eventual creation of a second beltway, cause more regional sprawl and ruin Montgomery County's agricultural reserve, an area between the Interstate 270 corridor and the Potomac River that sits largely undeveloped.

Montgomery County officials have been opposed to previous proposals for a new Potomac crossing, like the scuttled Techway.

In May, Virginia's Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a measure to designate a north-south route between Interstate 95 in Stafford County and Route 7 in Loudoun County as a "Corridor of Statewide Significance," which critics say will pave the way for funding of a future "Outer Beltway."

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, in an interview earlier this month with The Washington Post, said: "This is not an Outer Beltway … We’re basically just trying to look. This is just a study. This is no more. We’re going to look at transit, bikes, pedestrians, roads, everything. We just can’t ignore the obvious … Northern Virginia has attempted to control growth by not building transportation facilities, and it hasn’t worked."

In the meantime, the number of suburb-to-suburb commutes in the region is expected to increase by 45 percent by 2040, commuting patterns which do not work well with Metrorail's current hub-and-spoke system that only links downtown Washington with suburban areas in Maryland and Virginia.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance has called the lack of a bridge in the 35-mile stretch between the Capital Beltway and the Point of Rocks Bridge near Leesburg as the D.C. area's "single greatest regional transportation deficiency."

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