The Local Area Transportation Improvement Program (LATIP) was adopted by the Montgomery County Council to address/mitigate the transportation impacts anticipated to be created by the White Oak Science Gateway Masterplan. As part of the LATIP, Montgomery County's Department of Transportation (MCDOT) performed a more robust traffic study than what individual projects would traditionally perform on their own (coming in one project at a time). With the benefit this more "holistic" study, the costs of necessary improvements throughout the study area were determined and a “cost per trip” fee to be charged to developers was established. [See LATR Appendix 4 for a discussion of the LATIP and fee.]
When a new project is developed in the White Oak Science Gateway Masterplan area, the developer of that project has a choice either to pay a fee or to construct an identified LATIP improvement and to receive credit for the costs of such installed improvement against their LATIP fee.
The first project within the Local Area Transportation Improvement Program (LATIP) is nearing completion (the Home2 Suites Hotel on Elton Road). The LATIP Fee and a separate Transportation Impact Tax for this project are coming due shortly. While this developer could simply pay these fees and proceed (pay and go), they would prefer instead to make actual improvements to the local roads. Without the immediate identification and approval of an LATIP eligible improvement in Hillandale, both the LATIP Fee payment and the Transportation Impact Tax payment will be dedicated to other projects (in other areas of the County). In other words, an opportunity to address the traffic in Hillandle will be lost without the identification and approval of an LATIP eligible project.
The County Council, recognized that material traffic issues existed in Hillandale, and accordingly the LATIP assigned a value of five million dollars ($5m) to improve the local intersections. With respect to the designation of particular future improvements, MCDOT assumed that either MCDOT would eventually fund future studies (source of funding and timing of study unknown) or the development community would propose LATIP improvements (which is what is happening here).
There is a combination of improvements being proposed which will work together to make the New Hampshire Avenue/Powder Mill Road intersection safer and less congested.
In recognition of the fact that "cut through" traffic is an existing issue important to the community, the developer of the Home2Suites has proposed to install the Elton Calming measures FIRST. Importantly, the calming measures alone do not qualify for crediting under either the LATIP or Transportation Impact Tax guidelines. Only improvements which increase capacity are eligible. The proposed calming measures are being made eligible only because they are being proposed in conjunction with and as a functional part of the "slip ramp". In other words, without the "slip ramp" the calming measures can not be installed as part of either the LATIP or Transportation Impact Tax programs.
The developer of the Home2Suites by Hilton on Elton Road (and publisher of this information - See "About Us" for more information.) is the same developer who has partnered with the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County to redevelop the Holly Hall property on the West side of New Hampshire Avenue. This developer would prefer to make locally beneficial transportation improvements rather than to simply pay their LATIP fees (and Transportation Impact Taxes). Because the LATIP failed to identify any actual improvements within the program, this developer chose (on their own initiative) to study the local intersections in order to identify improvements which meet the needs identified by the LATIP.
YES, the transportation engineers in the Montgomery County Department of Transportation have reviewed these improvements and agree that they effectively meet the need identified at the New Hampshire Avenue/Powder Mill Road Intersection within the LATIP. Additionally, because New Hampshire Avenue (MD-650) is a State Road, engineers at the Maryland State Highway Administration (MDSHA) have also reviewed the study of these improvements and found no fault with the study and its conclusion that the improvements will materially improve the existing condition at the New Hampshire Avenue/Powder Mill Road Intersection.
Unfortunately, the New Hampshire Avenue/Powder Mill Road intersection is among the most congested and accident prone in the area. Removing turning vehicles (especially "u-turning" vehicles and vehicles trying to cross over to the ramp following a South bound left from Powder Mill) will greatly simplify the function of the intersection. Also, in addition to providing a much more convenient way for the residents and employees from Hillandale (South of Powder Mill Road) to access I-495 West, this combination of improvements will reduce the wait time for EVERYONE passing through the New Hampshire Avenue/Powder Mill Road intersection by approximately 40%. In the transportation world, this is a really significant improvement and should reduce the incentive to “cut through” the neighborhood to avoid that intersection. Beyond the local benefits, an improvement of this magnitude will save countless hours for the nearly 60,000 drivers who traverse this intersection each day. Patrons wishing to support our local businesses, FDA employees coming to and from the Federal Research Center and residents just wanting more time doing anything other than sitting in traffic will all benefit.
The purpose of the ramp is NOT to divert traffic from Riggs Road away from Powder Mill Road toward the ramp. The purpose of the ramp is to provide the Hillandale community (both residential and commercial) a more convenient means of accessing I-495 West and thereby significantly improving the flow of New Hampshire Avenue [See "The Slip Ramp Explained"]. The fact of the matter is that vehicles are already “cutting through” from Riggs Road to and from New Hampshire Avenue to avoid the congestion at the New Hampshire Avenue/Powder Mill Road Intersection. Importantly, the improvement package associated with the slip ramp includes additional traffic calming on Elton Road. These improvements primarily address the unsafe driving which has been observed by and upset the community for many years.
To the degree that both the newly installed calming on Wooded Way and the proposed calming on Elton Road fail to adequately address potential “cut through” from Riggs, there are a host of viable and increasingly restrictive measures that may be implemented. These include (but are not limited to) placing time restricted “No Turn” signs (i.e. during peak hours) on Wooded Way at Riggs Road. It is important to note that while the Riggs Road/Powder Mill Road intersection is in Prince Georges County, this fact does not negate the viability of the proposed solutions to address "cut through."
There is plenty of evidence that the majority of drivers obey signage. If 70% of drivers obey the signage the cut through traffic would be significantly reduced. However, to the degree that timed signs are insufficiently effective, another, more restrictive solution would be to make Wooded Way “ONE WAY” headed East (toward Riggs Road and in the opposite direction from the ramp) between Green Forest Drive and Riggs Road thereby eliminating the possibility of using the Wooded Way access point from Riggs Road as a “cut through” to the ramp. Making sections of road "One Way" is a widely implemented and effective solution. See Bregman Road at Randolph Road preventing the "cut through" to avoid the New Hampshire Avenue/Randolph Road intersection as a nearby example.
If we do nothing then the significant LATIP and Transportation Impact Taxes associated with the new hotel and other projects (including those fees associated with Hillandale Gateway) will go toward improvements in other parts of Montgomery County. LATIP funds can NOT be utilized unless LATIP eligible improvements are identified and approved.
Unfortunately, while it is among the most congested intersections in the plan area, the New Hampshire Avenue/Powder Mill Road Intersection is the ONLY LATIP identified intersection without an eligible, identified improvement. Until MCDOT approves an improvement package (like the one currently proposed) NO LATIP generated fees can be deployed here to address the congestion.
Supporting improvements now does not prevent future study and/or future improvements. Unfortunately, without the funds afforded by the imminent projects in Hillandale (which must be dedicated elsewhere in the absence of identified and approved LATIP improvements), the timing and funding sources of future improvements (and even resources to conduct the necessary studies) is simply unknown.