State Funding for Transportation Priorities March 14, 2013
Our County has been at the forefront of urging our state leaders to attend to what we believe to be our state's -- and certainly our county's -- most urgent priority -- transportation funding. We have helped organized a statewide coalition; put together a powerful symposium in Annapolis; talked personally to the Governor; and urged you to get involved as well.
Why? Because, as we said in our joint letter to you a couple of weeks ago, our county's future depends on it: our quality of life; our environment; our ability to actually produce transit oriented development; our competitiveness in the region. Funding for critical transit projects will literally stop dead in their tracks next year if a funding package isn't approved this year.
All of that work just may have paid off. Because our state's leaders have heard us ....and they saw what a Republican Governor in Virginia was able to do with a divided legislature and equally vast regional divides. There, the legislature, with the Governor's leadership, was able to pass an $850 million annual transportation funding law.
Our Governor, working with the Speaker and the President of the Senate (who led on this issue) was able to secure consensus on a slightly more modest package of $800 million annually. And while each of us may have gone about this slightly differently, the bottom line is that the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 introduced last week is, without question, a significant step forward in meeting our transportation funding needs.
But, we aren't done. We haven't gotten to the finish line. The first real test will be on Friday before the House Ways & Means Committee. There is a reason that this is such a heavy lift -- raising revenue for almost any purpose is not popular. And raising revenue when our state's region's have very different needs makes that even harder. At the end of the day, I hope that the state passes the necessary measures to keep our critical transportation projects moving forward.
Transportation Funding: Will Our State Make it a Priority? February 11, 2013
This year's legislative session in Annapolis represents a critical moment for our county's future. As I have reported in the past, finding a sustainable source of funding for our county's transportation needs remains a top priority and we can't do that without action from the Maryland General Assembly. Simply put, our county's future depends on creating more transit options.
In fact, if the Governor and the Legislature fail to find a way to provide a secure source of revenues to meet our transit needs this year, the state Department of Transportation has said - officially - that it will take more than $50 million currently allocated for the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway in FY 14 and reprogram those dollars for other projects in other parts of the state. I have protested that action in a letter, calling it "unacceptable", and have urged the Department to reconsider.
The President of the State Senate, Senator Mike Miller recently introduced two transportation funding bills for consideration by his colleagues. I applaud him for getting this important conversation started in Annapolis. Now we need the Governor and the Speaker to join in this conversation. Hopefully, there will be a broad discussion of this topic before the Assembly adjourns in April.
If you care about the future of our county's infrastructure like I do, please contact your State representatives and urge them to make transportation a top priority this legislative session.
Transportation Summit Focuses on Sustainable Transportation Funding December 19, 2012
Under the leadership of my colleague Councilmember George Leventhal, elected officials and stakeholders from around the State of Maryland recently gathered to discuss one of the most critical issues facing local jurisdictions - dedicated funding for transportation projects badly needed to ease congestion on our roads.
Councilmember Hans Riemer, Council President Nancy Navarro, Councilmember Marc Elrich and I joined County Executives from four Maryland jurisdictions including Montgomery's Ike Leggett, State Delegates, and stakeholder groups across the State to reiterate the need for sustainable, dedicated funding for transportation and to explore ways to move projects critical to our state and local economies forward via an assortment of financing mechanisms. The day was an excellent opportunity for transportation and transit advocates to put their heads together in the hopes of forging even stronger transportation coalitions and finding solutions that will pave the way for our future.
If we want to help people get out of their cars, get to where they are going faster and easier, spend more time with their families and less time on the road, we absolutely must build the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line, and a countywide rapid transit system. If we want to maintain our existing infrastructure, including our aging bridges, we must find a dedicated funding source. Without getting some of our tax dollars back from the state to do these things, we will literally be at a standstill.
If this issue is important to you like it is to me, it is critical that you let our Governor and your State legislators know that you want to see the State Transportation Trust Fund restored and money for transportation protected. You can find contact information for the Governor and your state legislators here.
The Future of the Capital Crescent Trail March 13, 2012
Ever since the 1990 Georgetown Branch Master Plan was adopted, it has been the County's intent that both a light rail line and a paved trail should be built along the Georgetown Branch right of way. And since that time the understanding has been that the State would pay for the light rail line and the County would pay for the trail. I believe that the time is right for the County to include monies for the Trail in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) that is currently under review by the Council.
The Purple Line has been identified as among the highest priority projects for transportation that the County is endorsing. I have always held that the Trail is an integral component of the Purple Line. It is with all this in mind that the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment Committee, which I chair, unanimously recommended including monies for building the trail.
In the course of these deliberations there were several considerations: lighting, call boxes and landscaping issues being the easiest to resolve. The contentious issue was whether the Trail and the light rail line could fit together inside the Bethesda Tunnel. This has been the subject of a great deal of analysis by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) as well as Montgomery County's Department of Transportation. The Committee took testimony from many of the stakeholders including the Town of Chevy Chase, the Bethesda Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail. The Committee found that is was both too risky and too costly to have a 12 foot hiker-biker tail suspended over the train line as the design through the Tunnel called for. The risk to the Apex Buildings' structural integrity was deemed 'too high' by our Department of Transportation.
This is an extremely disappointing outcome. However, the potential for an additional $50 million price tag for suspending the Trail over the train along with the untold price of undermining the Apex Building was too much. MTA is in the process of reviewing other possible configurations for the tunnel which could include a 5 foot sidewalk. This design would allow the connectivity we seek if not the full hiker biker Trail we had hoped to achieve. We will hear back from MTA before the CIP is finalized in May so we will continue to pursue this and other options.
I am also convinced that the small part of the Trail on street, as envisioned by the Master Plan, can be made a safe experience. Monies are in the CIP for this project and we have asked that a Task Force work with the County to design the best possible hiker biker segment through Bethesda. Included in the Task Force would be representatives of the Town of Chevy Chase, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail and the Bethesda Urban Partnership. Signal phasing, changes in traffic flow and prominent signage can help to make for a safe crossing through Bethesda.
I know the Trail experience will be different, in some cases, very different than it is today. I am committed to continue to press MTA for connectively through the tunnel for walkers and I am hopeful we can see this result.
Speaking of surprises, we got another one from the state transportation folks in charge of the Purple Line. We have now been informed that to have bikers use the same tunnel as the light rail into Bethesda it will cost the County an additional $40 million. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a big chunk of change.
The Planning Board has asked the state to look at several alternatives, including potentially moving the station. Our Council has been asked to weigh in as well, insofar as the state needs guidance for the design phase we have now entered. As I wrote on the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's blog, I will be exploring all of the options and meeting with all of the stakeholders on this development.
Pearl Street and Access to the Capital Crescent Trail January 27, 2011
Unfortunately, right of way issues created a bit of an impasse - literally and figuratively - just as the Trail goes into the tunnel and meets the Bethesda Trolley Trail. With the cooperation of several parties and the development of new properties adjacent to the Trail, the right of way issues have been resolved and an interim pedestrian walkway will now be built. Ultimately the construction of the Purple Line will define the permanent access here, but until the Purple Line becomes a reality, I am pleased that people will no longer be climbing though tree roots and over embankments to reach the Trail at this particular access point.
Purple Line Functional Master Plan Approved August 10, 2010
On July 27, our Council unanimously approved revisions to the Purple Line Functional Master Plan that address station locations, alignment of some portions of the route and access points to the adjacent Trail. As you know, I have long been a supporter of this important mass transit project, while at the same time fighting to mitigate the impact it will have on the trail and adjacent property owners. That is why I left no stone unturned in exploring single tracking, as well as a wireless system that can more effectively allow for a full tree canopy.
The Town of Chevy Chase urged me to convey their concerns about safety to MTA, and I did so in no uncertain terms. In addition, concern has been expressed that the Purple Line would be built without the Trail. This project does not move forward unless the rail and Trail are hand and glove. And access to the Trail is now planned to be available from more than 20 separate locations.
I believe that it is critical to the quality of life of my constituents to try as hard as we can to mitigate impacts to adjacent residences who live all along the Trail. This has been and will continue to be my priority.
T&E Committee Votes on Purple Line Recommendations January 23, 2009
On January 22, my colleagues and I on the Council�s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee concurred with the county�s Planning Board and the County Executive and voted unanimously to recommend to the State that it build the Purple Line as a light rail transit system along the alignment which has been in the County�s Master Plan since 1990. I cast this vote because I believe that light rail along the Master Plan Alignment provides a first-class mass transit system consistent with the creation of a sustainable community and is the best long-term option for solving our serious east-west mobility problems, which will only worsen with time.
I examined carefully the request by the Town of Chevy Chase and others that the bus rapid transit on Jones Bridge Road be selected as the preferred alternative, and I wrote to Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari to request that this option be given full and careful consideration. However, along with the Planning Board, the County Executive and my colleagues on the Council, I do not believe that the bus rapid transit (BRT) option that runs along Jones Bridge Road to Wisconsin Avenue in shared traffic lanes and then heads south to downtown Bethesda, thus avoiding the Georgetown Branch Trail, is a viable option. BRT along Jones Bridge Road would provide insufficient capacity to serve a growing ridership, take more than twice as long as light rail on the Master Plan Alignment, exacerbate existing traffic problems, and is opposed by residents living along its route. I also believe that although BRT is less expensive, light rail provides a superior transit system and is more consistent with the quality of life and the urban experience in downtown Bethesda.
Nonetheless, I fully understand and regret that this recommendation will require significant sacrifices on the part of many of my constituents who treasure the Georgetown Branch Trail. The interim trail, which runs along the right-of-way purchased by the county in 1988 for the Purple Line, has over the last twenty years become a unique and beloved resource for the thousands of users who walk, run and bike under the shade of its trees. Although I believe that light rail is not fundamentally inconsistent with a hiker-biker trail, no one disputes that building the Purple Line will fundamentally alter the current character of the trail experience.
Given this context, I believe it is my duty to fight on behalf of the constituents who value the trail to ensure that the trail experience is enhanced to the greatest extent possible. In particular, the State�s representatives have affirmed in response to my questions that the trail is an integral part of the Purple Line project, and will be rebuilt at the highest quality concurrently with the transit portion of the project. In addition, I have obtained assurances that the State will mitigate tree cutting, replant trees and generally provide attractive landscaping, widen the trail from 10 feet to 12 or even 16 feet in some areas, use grass tracks, run the trail under Wisconsin Avenue in a tunnel under the Air Rights and Apex buildings, and limit the extension of the tail tracks into our public commons at Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues. I have also requested that the State examine alternative light rail technologies, such as diesel-electric light rail, that do not require overhead catenary wires and would thus more easily permit tree regrowth. As this project proceeds, I will continue to work with the State to make certain that the completed trail remains an enjoyable recreational experience in an esthetically pleasing environment.
I know that this decision will disappoint many of my constituents who live near the Georgetown Branch trail and use it daily. My responsibility as a district councilmember sometimes requires that I balance the wishes of some of my constituents against what I conclude to be the larger public good. This is the hardest part of my job. In a recent column, Marc Fisher noted that the Purple Line issue required a choice between the greater joy and the greater good. I agree that the �greater joy� of the trail as it exists today must unfortunately be compromised for the �greater good� of shared transit and a trail. I believe that once the State builds the Purple Line and the new, wider trail, Montgomery County residents will have the benefits of both a speedy, reliable transit system and a truly enjoyable, esthetically pleasing hiker-biker trail for generations to come.