One of the central arguments used by those who oppose the approved plans for Columbia Town Center’s redevelopment is that the area can’t handle any increase in traffic. This argument assumes that lowering the allowed residential density from 5,500 to something closer to 2,000 will make the traffic situation more manageable.
This argument is flawed. Even if no additional homes were built in Town Center, traffic will continue to worsen because the greatest percentage of the traffic on HoCo highways is pass-through traffic. The physical location of HoCo between two major metropolitan areas with three major connecting highways running through it means that the bulk of our traffic congestion is beyond local control.
In this well thought out post about growth and development in HoCo, Frank Hecker puts our traffic conundrum in another light.
“Because of the nature of my job I travel all over the DC metro area, and it’s astonishing how travel times have lengthened, especially for return trips in the afternoon and evening; from where I live in Ellicott City I’m now over an hour away from Bethesda and the close-in Maryland suburbs, over an hour and a half away from downtown DC, and (at least for the return trip) over two hours away from Reston, Herndon, and other northern Virginia locations.
In my opinion that makes it all the more important to foster employment growth and commercial development within Columbia and Howard County, so that there’s a critical mass of opportunities to live, work, and spend leisure time nearby. Some people are concerned that the planned Columbia Town Center development and other initiatives will increase traffic congestion by both increasing the local population and attracting commuters from elsewhere. That may be true, but I think the alternative is worse: I’d rather deal with some localized congestion commuting to a job within Howard County than have to drive a ways out of the county and then have to deal with equivalent or worse local congestion at my destination.”