GAITHERSBURG – The Hogan administration committed to move forward on improving three of four proposed roadways associated with the Interstate 270 interchange at Watkins Mill Road, according to city lobbyists.
Since learning earlier this year state highway administration officials had scaled back construction funding for the long-planned project, Gaithersburg’s lobbyists have requested funding for the full interchange, arguing that it is essential to economic development in the city and the entire Upcounty region.
Lobbyists Ron Garagoila and Moira Moynihan related their efforts to secure a commitment from the Hogan administration to fund the interchange.
They worked with city and county officials and multiple Chambers of Commerce to present the case to the Senate Finance Committee.
“We had a very good debate in the Finance Committee,” Garagoila said. “Later in the day, there was an hour-plus debate on the legislation. That may not seem like a long time, but in Annapolis, an hour is actually a very long time, considering the number of bills that come through these committees…Ultimately, we got the six votes that we needed. It passed the Senate and went over to the House.”
The update served as a relief for council member Robert Wu, who also serves as President of the Watkins Mill Homeowners Association and previously served on the city’s Transportation Committee.
“I can’t walk a day without being asked about progress on that interchange,” he said.
State Dels. Kumar Barve (D-17), Andrew Platt (D-17) and Jim Gilchrist (D-17) all discussed their efforts to advance the city’s interests in the legislative session.
Barve, who chairs the House Environment and Transportation Committee, expressed displeasure at the lack of communication from Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn with regards to the interchange project.
“The relationship with the secretary of transportation began in a very tense place,” Barve said.
Barve said he heard about the plan to stop the interchange from the media, not from Rahn or his staff.
“I called Pete Rahn into my office, looked him in the eye and questioned his commitment to the city of Gaithersburg. I basically went straight to DEFCON-4 with him. I told him that this sort of behavior is not acceptable to me, my colleagues, or anyone in Montgomery County,” said Barve.
Barve said securing funding for the full interchange would be a top priority of his when the assembly reconvenes next January. He also discussed the Metrorail system’s ongoing safety and infrastructure woes.
“Many of our residents use metro, particularly Shady Grove, and it is notoriously unsafe and unreliable,” Barve said. He expressed confidence WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld would address the system’s problems, saying that he had demonstrated his commitment by shutting rails down for 29 hours in March for maintenance.
“My only quibble with him is that a day’s warning would have been nice,” Barve said.
The city also prioritized funding for new local school construction to relieve overcrowding.
Garagoila said the city’s legislators spearheaded efforts to add an additional $20 million for school construction. The funding will be disbursed to six districts, including Montgomery County, which will receive approximately 25 percent of the funds.