Strong feelings exist on both sides of the bridge issue. Business leaders would like to see another river crossing.
“We haven’t been serious about this corridor,” said Rich Parsons, president of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re paying the price now.”
Parsons sees a new bridge as necessary to relieve area gridlock. Parsons states that a new bridge would result in 29,000 cars per day removed from the American Legion bridge. The bridge was designed to handle 175,000 cars per day and currently 210,000 cross it, according to Parsons.
Parsons sites a study estimating that the bridge will have a carry 310,000 cars per day by 2020 — a situation he says would result in 14 hours of gridlock.
“That’s the fact these groups ignore and they don’t have a solution,” he said.
Smart growth advocates questioned the need for new traffic studies, noting that a 1990 VDOT study and a 2002 study commissioned by smart growth groups found that a bridge would not significantly decrease traffic congestion.
"All the studies have found the same thing," said Laura Olsen of Coalition for Smarter Growth. "That it doesn't change traffic but it does shift development."
The Virginia Department of Transportation study found that a crossing at Virginia Route 28 would reduce traffic on the American Legion Bridge by 6.5 percent, and by 2.1 percent on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Tina Brown, of Solutions Not Sprawl, cites studies conducted last fall by Smart Mobility, Inc. and Anita Kramer Associates, Inc. showing that a new bridge crossing would result in more traffic on local roads, for example an 89 percent increase in traffic on Route 28.
“That doesn’t do anything for mobility in the region,” Brown said. “It will clog our local roads.”
Last year, the Piedmont Environmental Council, the Coalition for Smarter Growth and other groups released a report that said that a Potomac River bridge would decrease traffic on the Beltway's American Legion Bridge by less than 2 percent. At the same time traffic would increase on both sides of the river and new developments would sprout up around the bridge and its connecting roadways.
A bridge at or beyond Point of Rocks is not useful, Parsons said. “Point of Rocks is three times closer to Harper’s Ferry W.Va. than it is to Bethesda,” Parsons said. “It does not do anything for Montgomery County.”
Brown thinks building the bridge would actually do more harm to the entire region. Her studies show that any bridge would cause a significant increase over the current development forecasts in Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, and Fauquier counties in Virginia and Montgomery and Frederick counties in Maryland.
Parsons sees a broad base of support for the bridge. “The majority of citizens want a bridge,” he said. “Every poll that’s been done favors a bridge.”
Brown disagrees. “Do they really think that the affected communities will welcome the new sprawl development, and the destruction of established neighborhoods and environmental treasures?” she said.
Parsons believes that the study, at least, needs to be done. “Information never hurts,” he said. “The people who stand up and say we shouldn’t study it, to me, that says they don’t have a case.”
Brown thinks there is enough information to decide against a bridge. “Previous studies have shown, it won't solve our traffic and mobility problems,” Brown said.
In addition to traffic data, she points to environmental concerns. “Governor Ehrlich cut over $1 million from land conservation and park money, but he can find money to develop it and pave it over,” Brown said.