GOCA officials want higher priority for fixing Georgia/Norbeck intersection
But money for projects on transportation wish list is scarce
Greater Olney Civic Association officials are frustrated that the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Norbeck Road has not climbed higher on the county's transportation priority list, especially after lobbying to get its ranking improved.
They say the late-February opening of the first phase of the Intercounty Connector, which connects Interstate 370 near Shady Grove Road to Norbeck Road (Route 28) just east of Georgia Avenue (Route 97) in Olney, has added volume to an intersection that received failing grades for years.
Despite working with Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring and Councilman Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown, the project remains at No. 4 on the priority list that the County Council recently submitted to the state.
"We are extremely disappointed that the intersection did not move further up on the priority list," GOCA President Matt Zaborsky said. "We feel that would have been a tremendous opportunity to solve two major problems Montgomery County faces, since Georgia Avenue north-south and Norbeck Road east-west are among the top five congested roads in the county."
The State Highway Administration reports average daily traffic counts through that intersection as 41,000 on Georgia Avenue and 25,000 on Norbeck Road, spokesman Charlie Gischlar said.
The intersection gets a grade of F, the lowest possible grade, Gischlar said. That means motorists sit through more than one cycle of a traffic signal.
Zaborsky said the Olney Master Plan calls for a grade-separated interchange.
"I do know that planning and engineering studies have already been done, and if the construction had been done when called for, these problems wouldn't be there today," he said.
Zaborsky realizes the problems lie with the state's budget crisis there is no money to build the project, estimated at $142 million, or any others on the list.
"Even if we were No. 1 on the list, there is no money to build it," he said. "It could take five, 10 or 20 years, we just don't know."
Navarro said the list is a symbolic exercise, since the county does not know when it will see funding to move any of the projects forward.
Zaborsky said he and other GOCA representatives met with Navarro and Rice, who were supportive of their pleas to move the intersection higher on the county's priority list.
Navarro said she supported moving the project up, and sent a memorandum to the County Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee.
In it, she states that the intersection has been failing for years and will only deteriorate in time because of continued growth in the area. She also states that the intersection is listed as the fifth most congested in the county and that the northern portion of the Georgia Avenue corridor is one of the county's worst stretches of roadway.
That portion of Georgia Avenue is between Hewitt Avenue in Aspen Hill and Brookeville road in Brookeville, said Miti Figueredo, Navarro's chief of staff.
Navarro said the committee changed the priority list. She said that federal Base Realignment and Closure would have pushed the project down even further, but instead it moved up one notch from the fifth spot as listed on the July 2008 priority list.
In addition to the intersections, the priority list includes transit projects such as the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line, Bus Rapid Transit and the Georgia Avenue Busway.
"These intersections could not withstand being pushed further down," she said. "We need to keep advocating, and make sure to address the intersections while at the same time promoting transit. That is a challenge."
Rice could not be reached for comment by Tuesday afternoon, but also sent a memo to the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee stressing the importance of two local projects: the Georgia Avenue/Norbeck Road intersection and the proposed Brookeville bypass.
"The concerns of the Olney and Brookeville community over the safety, traffic volume and significant backups of these intersections warrant that these projects remain a top priority," he wrote.
The Brookeville bypass would reroute north-south commuter traffic on Georgia Avenue around the historic town of Brookeville instead of directly through the small village.
GOCA members have been worried that the ICC opening would further exacerbate traffic problems, despite promises from the State Highway Administration that traffic at the intersection of Georgia and Norbeck would be no worse when the east-west toll road opened.
SHA spokesman David Buck said it is too early for data on the ICC's effect, since the first portion of the road has been opened for only a couple of weeks and tolls went into effect Monday.
He said the SHA maintains that the intersection will not operate any worse, either now or when the ICC is opened all the way to Interstate 95 in Laurel.
But Zaborsky thinks that money spent to build the ICC could have been better used. "The state spent a substantial amount of money for the construction of the ICC, and many question the wisdom to spend that on one road when there are many necessary projects now lacking funding," he said.
The 18.8-mile toll road is expected to cost $2.6 billion.