This year’s draft County Council budget represents an important victory for one of the county’s top priorities: supporting the Purple Line.
The Purple Line is a light rail (not Metro size) project linking Bethesda, Silver Spring, theUniversity of Maryland, and New Carrollton. The State has been responsible for planning the project, and recently the federal government auth
While the Purple Line is a State-funded project also seeking federal funding, the County has an important role to play in making it happen. The County’s 1988 acquisition of a train-track right-of-way between Bethesda and Silver Spring was a vital contribution to the Purple Line’s alignment. In addition, the County has committed to build a new entrance for the Purple Line at the Bethesda Metro Station as well as completing the Capital Crescent Trail and Silver Spring Green Trail alongside the rail route.orized funds for its design. The expectation is that if federal construction funds are approved on a timely basis, then ground will be broken in 3 years.
The new Bethesda entrance is an important project on its own merits because of the frequent escalator breakdowns at that station. Those breakdowns cause intolerable conditions for Metro users and it’s unclear when WMATA can fully remedy them. In the short term, I have worked with my colleagues to call on WMATA to improve its communication with passengers and to provide better transportation alternatives when the escalators fail. In the long run, a new entrance will be very helpful.
The new entrance is also an integral part of the Purple Line project. One of the virtues of the Purple Line is its ability to link both ends of Metro’s Red Line (as well as the Orange Line in New Carrollton and the Green Line in College Park). In Bethesda, a seamless transfer requires new station capacity. In the last capital budget, the Council programmed $53.7 million in construction money to build it. This was a strong signal to both the federal and State governments that MontgomeryCounty was committed to the Purple Line and was willing to put its own money down to get it, just as the State is doing with planning funds.
To my surprise and dismay, in his recommended capital improvements program the County Executive Leggett recommended delaying all construction money for the new entrance to Fiscal Year 2019 or later. The Executive told the Council that since the federal government had not yet approved construction funds for the Purple Line, the County should budget no money for related projects. Furthermore, he argued that the County’s commitment of money for the Bethesda entrance would have no bearing on whether the state and federal governments would fund the Purple Line.
The County Council unanimously disagreed. We want the Purple Line. It is an important investment in the future of our economy and our community. And we believe that withdrawing funding would send a signal to our partners in Washington and Annapolis that we will accept delay for the project. So every member of the Council voted to put the south entrance construction money back in the budget. See below for a great video that showcases what the Purple Line will do.
A related project is the Capital Crescent Trail. The State and County both recognize that a completed, paved pedestrian and bicycle trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring is a necessary complement to the Purple Line. Prior to this year, no Executive or Council had ever included funding for the trail. This year, the Executive did not recommend paying for it. But the Council unanimously voted to approve $49.5 million to build the trail. The project will be a largely 12-foot-wide hard-surface hiker-biker path with connecting paths, a new bridge over Connecticut Avenue, a new underpass beneath Jones Mill Road, supplemental landscaping, and lighting at trail junctions, in underpasses, and at other critical points. The County is still exploring how to cross the trail at or under Wisconsin Avenue, and we are not giving up on a tunnel. The trail is scheduled to begin construction in Fiscal Year 2016, again the same tentative date as the Purple Line.
Another related project is the Silver Spring Green Trail, an 8-10-foot-wide path that will run along the north side of Wayne Avenue between downtown Silver Spring and SligoCreekPark, and in the same right-of-way as the Purple Line. For this project, the Executive also recommended delaying funds to Fiscal Year 2019 or later, but the Council has restored its funding to the Fiscal Year 2016-2018 time-frame, consistent with the Purple Line’s current schedule.
Ultimately, the Purple Line’s fate depends on whether federal and State funding will be available. But the County Council has taken a stand that the County will do everything in its power to make sure that the Purple Line – and the Capital Crescent and Silver Spring Green Trails – will be built. You have my commitment that I will push to make them a reality.
Tuesday started early with a meeting in Downtown Silver Spring with Ronnie Galvin, Executive Director of Impact Silver Spring. Impact focuses on building a thriving and engaged multicultural community, with campaigns in Gaithersburg, Wheaton, Silver Spring, and other areas. The organization does great work so it was a pleasure meeting with Ronnie.
Next came a meeting with leaders from the Rockville Economic Development Institute’s Women’s Business Center. I am very interested in seeing how the county can help entrepreneurs in the child care sector to expand or start new child care businesses. They are presenting ideas that I think are exciting and I’m looking forward to working on these issues at Council.
Lastly, a meeting with fellow Councilmember’s Roger Berliner and George Leventhal with the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, Beverley Swaim-Staley. We discussed MontgomeryCounty’s critical transit priorities, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway. I was heartened to hear the Secretary explain that while big infrastructure projects have doubters, the doers get them done and she firmly expects that we will figure out how to finance these projects and get them done.
Wednesday featured an extended meeting with Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) Air Quality Committee as a new member. The COG’s focus is simple; creating a more accessible, sustainable, prosperous, and livable National Capital Region. The MWAQC is the entity that sets policy on pollution limits and signs off on those air quality alerts you hear, for example. I will be working hard to keep the pressure up on measures we can take to prevent global warming.
Thursday started with a meeting of the Purple Line Now (PLN) board, then a meeting discussing the County’s development review process with our Director of Permitting Services, Diane Schwartz-Jones. After that, a whirlwind of meetings from Brian Edwards and Richard Lipsky of Montgomery County Public Schools discussing PEG Channels in our schools to issues relating to the Kensington Sector Plan with community advocates (hi Judy Higgins!) and finally a very helpful meeting with the past chair of the county’s aging commission, Elaine Binder, about senior transportation issues; I am working on ideas for our Transportation committee to consider.
Friday featured a discussion about workforce training withMontgomery CollegePresident DeRionne Pollard. We are making sure our students are getting practical training so that they can confidently and competently enter the workforce. Meanwhile I am focusing intently on the coalition campaign to stop the cost-shift budget cuts on pensions – www.stoptheshiftmd.com – and also putting a great deal of thought into Wheaton redevelopment.
Today started in the Takoma-Langley Crossroads area for a meeting with Erwin Mack. He runs a small business improvement effort in that area and they are working on the Purple Line, the sector plan, and many issues. Erwin is also head of the county’s pedestrian and bike safety committee. We discussed the recent T&E committee meeting about safety for kids walking to school and some follow up that I am considering.
Then, a Gov Ops committee meeting at 1030 focused on technology issues.
The rest of the day went to a collection of items I’m working on. Economic development, particularly. I was surprised to see another multi-million dollar economic incentive request on my desk from the county executive.
I’m also getting ready for my first town hall type event, on December 12 at Richard Montgomery High School, at 730pm. Please mark your calendar!
The photo is from a quick meeting today with a group of Webelos. My favorite moment: in response to Nancy Floreen’s challenge to correctly say how many people live in Montgomery County, we had a very thoughtful and persuasive young man pronounce, FIVE thousand!! “NO,” the next one said, “NINE thousand!“
Now I am on the couch… Emailing and watching MCPS TV, trying to get a better sense of what we offer through our county cable channels.
This morning I met with volunteer PTA leaders from the BCC cluster to talk about the new middle school. Last night Dr. Starr announced he would reinitiate the site selection process for that middle school, acknowledging a flawed MCPS process. I applaud his decision and I think it was both wise and courageous for him to clear the decks on an issue like that. Nevertheless the schools are overcrowded…
This afternoon we held a joint meeting of the Prince George’s County Council and our Council’s transportation committees. We discussed the Purple Line, bus rapid transit and the state commission’s recommendations to raise some $800 million in transportation funds. I made the point that the Purple Line will be a game changer for economic development as it connects our 355/270 corridor and the Red Line there with Silver Spring, UMD and New Carrollton – on up to NYC. Plus a few more Metro lines in PG and some MARC lines to boot.
Regionally the Purple Line is our most critical transportation priority and our two counties, which suffer from heavy traffic and will pay a huge share of the needed gas tax increase, should insist on a funding commitment this year in the legislature. If we support the gas tax together then let’s get the Purple Line together!
The photo shows us at the WSSC board chamber where we sometimes meet when it is a joint function.