Connecting our region so Montgomery County can thrive
July 21, 2021
Over the past two weeks, I have been working feverishly to save a major transportation project that the County has long supported — improving 270 and the American Legion Bridge — while securing a commitment from the state for a major transit project as part of that plan.
I’d like to tell you why.
You may know that I have used my time in office fighting to make our transportation options safer, more equitable, and greener. I have helped shepherd the Purple Line through numerous crises, and no Councilmember has done more to secure bike and pedestrian improvements Countywide.
Every year in the budget, I push for more buses, more bike lanes, and safer sidewalks. I have successfully fought to expand Metro service, lower speed limits, increase automated enforcement, and remove dubious highways from our plans.
I am also increasingly alarmed about our County’s sluggish economy and the shifting center of regional economic gravity to Northern Virginia. As that trend has accelerated, the harmful consequences to us of untenable delays on the American Legion Bridge have become greater.
The American Legion Bridge is now a barrier to economic activity between our jurisdictions which incentivizes companies to locate in Virginia rather than Maryland and thereby accelerates the regional shift South at our expense.
Fixing this problem can help retain some regional balance. Opposing a solution here doesn’t advance any important goals, it just moves growth to a different part of the region — Virginia.
Montgomery County must be part of a tightly connected region — or decline.
Transit is central to our connectivity, but cars are also a reality. That is why I support congestion pricing and aggressive measures to replace gasoline-powered cars with clean electric.
And that is why, after obtaining a new commitment for a state-funded transit project in Montgomery County, I joined with four of my colleagues to move the “Managed Lanes” project forward with a vote to conduct additional environmental analysis of the project through the Council of Governments, ensuring a project can be eligible for federal funding.
Since this project was first proposed, I have always insisted on a “yes, and” approach. In my May 2019 newsletter I wrote:
Unfortunately, rather than negotiate to improve this project, Marc Elrich and Larry Hogan seem to be in an unproductive cycle of fighting with one another. While they have been carrying on, I have been working with my Council colleagues and officials at the Maryland Department of Transportation to develop a solution that allows us to:
- Fix the bridge, and
- Finally deliver a real transit project to serve the Upcounty.
These are solutions we have been fighting to accomplish for years if not decades. The project is now very similar to what the County has long supported in our master plan — with the additional benefit of delivering at least one transit project through toll funding.
The Silver Spring side of the Beltway has been removed from the plan as we demanded; the project will not take a single home or business; and it will even largely remain within the footprint of the existing sound walls that you see today.
This fits in the framework I have been advancing for years, as laid out in my 5 Point Plan for Job Growth:
While never popular, I also believe that tolling and congestion pricing are the right way to limit sprawl and pay for highway capacity.
Today’s Transportation Planning Board vote is nowhere near the end of this process. I will continue to seize every opportunity to make it better.
I am grateful to all of the activists and elected officials who have battled to make this project better, and have deep respect for those who continue to believe that the Governor has not done enough to meet the legitimate concerns that have been raised.
But a continued posture of “no” sets us up for continued decline, and kills the opportunity to pursue any of these changes. As former County Executive Ike Leggett argued, it is time to stop obstructing and focus on getting the best project we can.
As the project moves forward, we can seize the opportunity to use toll revenue to fund MARC expansion just as Virginia has used toll revenue to expand VRE. I’ll be fighting for that — as well as getting the state and WMATA to commit to expanding the Red Line to Germantown.
Former Councilmember Roger Berliner has advocated that we should support this project while requiring it to be net-zero carbon through off-sets, which could set a new standard for Federal highway investment. We should pursue that as well.
That is why, with a new commitment to transit, I support moving the process forward.