Governor, County Executive Break Ground for New Watkins Mill Interchange

Project is expected to give Gaithersburg residents easier access to I-270


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Gov. Larry Hogan, center, at the groundbreaking for the Watkins Mill Interchange on Watkins Mill Road along with County Executive Ike Leggett, right, and SHA Administrator Greg Slater, left

Gov. Larry Hogan and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett threw shovelfuls of dirt in front of a State Highway Administration dump truck in Gaithersburg on Tuesday to break ground for the long-awaited Watkins Mill Interchange.

Hogan announced at the event the state will begin construction this month on the $97.71 million diamond interchange that will add a four-lane bridge connecting the two sides of Watkins Mill Road as well as four new entry and exit ramps to I-270. The project has been a county transportation priority for more than a decade.

Hogan said the state’s contractor, Wagman Heavy Civil of York, Pennsylvania, plans to complete the project by 2020—a timeline he said would be more than a year ahead of the project’s original schedule. He added the project will be integrated with $105 million in planned congestion management improvements on I-270.

The interchange's design. Via State Highway Administration website.

The interchange, drawn by Bethesda Beat in blue here, will connect two sides of Watkins Mill Road. via Google Maps.

“I can tell you that anyone who travels through Montgomery County knows how bad congestion can be along Clopper Road, Route 355, Quince Orchard Road and many other thoroughfares,” Hogan said. “We’re working very hard to improve all those.”

Leggett thanked the governor for working to make the project a reality and said the interchange would help reduce travel time for commuters and help drivers more easily access nearby businesses and services such as the Gaithersburg Medical Center and Lakeforest Mall. Other local officials such as Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman and Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton were also on hand for the groundbreaking.

The project is popular in Gaithersburg and has long been pursued by state legislators in the area, several of whom said Tuesday they weren’t invited by Hogan to the groundbreaking.

State Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery Village, District 39) remembers rounding up votes for the gas tax increase that was signed by Martin O’Malley in 2013 by pitching the Watkins Mill Interchange as one of the key local projects that would be funded with the additional tax revenue.

“The money has been available for the project since before Hogan came on,” King said. “The governor talks a lot about being bipartisan and that kind of thing. He knows legislators from District 39, District 15 and District 17 have been active in this process to get this interchange and to not invite us to come to [the groundbreaking] is a major, major oversight.”

Despite her dissatisfaction with Hogan, King said the project would help business development in the community and she hopes it will bring additional restaurants to the area.

“I’ve heard of lots of businesses that have been waiting for the go ahead on this project before they move ahead opening in the area,” King said.

Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Germantown, District 39) said he, too, was disappointed about not being invited to the groundbreaking given his support of the project, but was happy to see it move forward. He said he hopes the interchange will help spur redevelopment at Lakeforest Mall. Neither Reznik nor King attended the event.

Dels. Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery Village, District 39) and Charlie Barkley (D-Germantown, District 39) both showed up at the event despite not receiving an invitation. Robinson said he found out about it an hour before the 1 p.m. start of the event.

“Luckily, I have a lot of friends in Montgomery County that keep me informed on what’s happening,” Robinson said.

When asked about the lack of invitations to county legislators, Hogan said the Democratic state legislators from the county were partly responsible for passing the transportation scoring bill, which the governor dubbed the “road kill bill,” that he said would have killed the interchange and other proposed road projects in the state.

A Baltimore Sun editorial referred to this claim often repeated by Hogan as “baloney” when a compromise was being considered in the state Senate to lessen the impact of the law, which ultimately passed earlier this year. Hogan said Tuesday the compromise, which he referred to as a repeal, allowed him to move forward with the project. The compromise placed a two-year moratorium on scoring transportation projects, putting its possible effective date after the 2018 gubernatorial election.

King said the scoring bill was designed to provide more transparency about how transportation projects are funded. The Sun noted the governor could ignore the rankings and fund projects as he sees fit.

“It’s just childish games we’re playing,” King said. “At this point, I’m just happy [the interchange is] moving forward.”

Greg Slater, administrator for the State Highway Administration (SHA), said at the event an advertisement seeking a contractor for the project was pulled in 2015 after highway officials decided to integrate the interchange with the I-270 congestion improvements. The repackaged advertisement for the current project encouraged bidders to reduce the amount of time needed for construction in order to mitigate the project’s impact on traffic. By doing so, Slater said the state was able to agree to a contract that cut the construction time from four years to two-and-a-half years.

Slater said drivers in the construction area can expect “normal construction impacts” and SHA will work to minimize lane closures during peak travel times such as rush hour.

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