On the American Legion Bridge and 270 improvement plan

Some may be surprised that I brokered a deal to fund transit with toll revenue from the managed lanes plan — and supported moving forward with that plan.

You shouldn’t be. First of all, I have said clearly and consistently: my position is I want 1. the project to remain the existing right of way and 2. to make transit a real component.

With the agreement from the state to fund transit with toll revenue, these goals will be met.

Let’s talk about transit funding. The resolution that the 5 Council members supported at the COG TPB, with approval/support from Transportation Secy Slater and MDOT, refers to a major transit line such as the CCT or BRT on 355 and says, “MDOT will work collaboratively with Montgomery County to develop plans for construction, final delivery, and operation, funded through ongoing toll revenue”

MDOT has also stated they will advance fund engineering on the project to take it to final stages of completion. That’s the near term money; the long term money is the toll revenue.

What project are we talking about? Either the decades long planned Corridor Cities Transitway, or a high level BRT line on Rockville Pike / 355. These are not small projects, these are big projects, well north of $500M, and we have no other prospect for funding them.

Using toll revenue — aka a carbon tax, aka congestion pricing — is a good way to pay for transit alternatives. Prior to this deal, the County and the State had no plan to pay for a transit alternative.

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Connecting our region so Montgomery County can thrive

Dear Resident,

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.

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Accelerating the Electrification of the RideOn Fleet and Seniors Ride Free

MEMORANDUM

To: Council President Hucker and Councilmember Glass
From: Hans Riemer
Date: April 22, 2021
Re: Accelerating the Electrification of the RideOn Fleet and Seniors Ride Free

When the Transportation and Environment Committee takes up the RideOn operating and capital budgets on April 30, I request your thoughtful consideration of the following two proposals I will offer at the worksession.

First, I propose that we include funding in the FY23 Ride On Bus Fleet (P500821) to purchase an additional 10 electric buses instead of diesel buses. Importantly, these new electric buses would be earmarked for the mid and upcounty and stationed at the Gaithersburg Depot. To that end, I ask that the Department of General Services and RideOn begin work to build out charging and electrical capacity at the Gaithersburg Depot. Based on cost estimates provided by MCDOT, the fiscal impact would be approximately $3,860,000.

Combined with a proposed microgrid and other electrical upgrades at the Brookeville Depot, the County Executive recently proposed a schedule of 50 new electric buses over the next 4 years. These are smart investments, but they are geographically-bounded to the down county. My proposal would bring the benefits of electric buses to our mid and upcounty residents.

Second, I’d like to propose that we make RideOn and Metrobus free 24/7 for seniors and people with disabilities. Notwithstanding the current—and temporary—pause on all fare collection for RideOn, seniors and people with disabilities would normally ride free on RideOn and MetroBus Monday-Friday, between the hours of 9am – 3pm, Saturday, between the hours of 8:30am – 4pm, and half fares the rest of the time. Building on previous Council actions to make the bus access more equitable and affordable, I believe now is the time to make RideOn and Metrobus free for our residents most in need. MCDOT has estimated that this targeted expansion would require an additional $949,720 in funding for FY22: $705,620 in RideOn revenue loss and $244,100 in WMATA reimbursement.

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My budget priorities

Dear Resident:

The County’s budget for the next year is done. There is good news to share, as well as unfinished business.

Our budget process has two stages. The Executive prepares a draft and submits it by March 15. The Council then makes changes and finalizes the budget by the end of May.

Here are some of my highlights from this year, reflecting my own priorities.

Starting with education, we fully funded the MCPS budget request, thanks particularly to an increase in state funding. We also fully funded Montgomery College. Neither were fully funded in the Executive’s budget. MCPS will now reduce class size guidelines further.

On child care and pre-k, this is the third year in a row that we will expand pre-k for low income kids. Including this year’s expansion, the number of poor children benefiting from full-day pre-k will reach 1500, from 750 three years ago. This has been my highest priority in early education policy.

I want to salute Council President Nancy Navarro and Council Education Committee Chair Craig Rice and for their work on early education, and the County Executive for including the funds in his budget. We are making progress, though we have more to do.

I’m particularly thrilled by our expansion of after school programs. I have worked hard to add programs every year to our budget. This year I was joined by Councilmembers Albornoz and Jawando as we added four new high poverty elementary schools to our comprehensive Excel Beyond the Bell program, bringing the total to 8 that we have added in 3 years.

Each of these programs serves 120 children, five days a week. With 8 schools, we will now reach nearly 1,000 elementary age children served every school day!

We also added 3 middle school programs and we created a new initiative called Skills for the Future to support youth STEM programs.

On transit, we were able to restore four of the seven routes proposed for reduced service in the Executive’s budget. I am disappointed that we could not restore all seven. Cutting bus service is sure to increase driving and works against our social equity and environmental goals.

I am however happy that RideOn and WMATA bus service will now be free to students, all the time. This should create a whole new generation of transit riders. Thanks Councilmember Evan Glass for your advocacy!

I am particularly grateful that my colleagues agreed to reject the Executive’s proposed cuts of $5 million to the bicycle and pedestrian “Priority Areas” program (BiPPA). This is a construction program that builds new safety infrastructure in areas of the County with older infrastructure. It has projects planned in Wheaton, Silver Spring, and along the Purple Line corridor. Thank you Transportation Chair Tom Hucker!

We also restored funding for new Metro station entrances in White Flint and Forest Glen, both badly needed to make these station areas more accessible. The Executive had proposed cutting them from the budget.

On the climate emergency, I want to thank my colleagues for supporting my proposal for $400,000 to begin a comprehensive climate change planning initiative.

And finally, we were able to restore crucial funding to our Parks system, which was slated for significant cuts in the executive’s budget. I want to thank Councilmember Friedson, our Council’s Lead for Parks, who pushed until we got it done.

You may wonder how the Council was able to fund these programs. The answer lies in changing certain priorities within the budget. We did not raise taxes. We did, however, make changes in other ways, including scaling back some compensation that was excessive.

The County Executive’s proposed 9% raises were not affordable. Scaling them back enabled the Council to add funding to many of these key priorities mentioned above. (Though my view is that the 7% raise the Council agreed to for many employees was still more than we can afford, and I opposed that proposal too).

So as for unfinished business: while we crafted a better budget, the County still has an underlying problem — we have a structural deficit. A structural deficit is when our revenues continually come in below our expenditures. It happened again this year. The budget that we passed is substantially funded by using reserves intended for retiree health expenses. That practice needs to end.

We need to fix our structural deficit by bringing our expenses in line with our revenues. The County Executive has talked about “right-sizing” County government, and Councilmembers have indicated support. That would help ensure that compensation does not grow faster than revenues, leaving room to fund critical priorities.

Going forward, we need to work together to make changes that will put us on a more sustainable path.

Thank you for reading!

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Transit, safety, and street trees

Dear Resident:

If you care about transportation, energy and environmental issues, this update is for you.

Zooming out, I am sure you are following the Governor’s proposal for I-495 and I-270. In a letter to Secretary Pete Rahn that I organized with Transportation Committee Chairman Hucker and the County Executive, the County has insisted that the State stick within existing rights-of-way and add transit to the project, which would protect our neighborhoods and parks. We have our work cut out for us as this discussion continues.

We also call for expanded MARC service on the Brunswick Line, including the possibility of MARC-VRE through-running so County residents could have a fast, one-seat trip to job opportunities in Virginia and visa-versa.

Zooming in, last week the Council’s Transportation Committee, where I serve along with Chairman Tom Hucker and Councilmember Evan Glass, worked on the Department of Transportation’s (MCDOT) budget for the upcoming year.

Following are our recommendations to the full Council. You can read the Council staff report here. Any new proposals will need to be funded by the full Council by reordering priorities within the overall budget. We will see where things end up and now is a great time to share your views at the Council.

Transit

Bus Service: Students Ride Free
The committee recommended that kids under 18 (or 18 year old students) should be able to board for free on RideOn and WMATA buses in the County during all hours of service. The initiative, championed by Councilmember Evan Glass and which I strongly support, will hopefully build a new generation of transit riders. I will never forget the freedom that the bus provided me when I was young and I want all kids to have that opportunity.

Currently, elementary and secondary school students can ride free from 2:00-8:00pm weekdays, a measure that I championed with Councilmember Navarro in my first term.

Rejecting cuts to RideOn
The County Executive recommended cutting service on RideOn Routes 26, 38, 49, 55, 57, 59, and 64. Cutting bus service is not the way to go. The Committee rejected those proposed cuts.

Bus Rapid Transit on Veirs Mill and 355
Earlier this year, I advocated for the acceleration of planning and design for BRT on Veirs Mill Rd, as I have for years. The Committee, however, has agreed to defer a decision on Veirs Mill BRT until MCDOT announces their recommended alternative for BRT on MD 355, which is expected early this summer. Should fiscal capacity not allow both, the fuller picture on MD 355 will allow the Committee to better weigh the relative priority of each corridor and decide which BRT route should go first.

Electric buses
To help us reduce emissions and meet our climate goals, the County has begun transitioning the RideOn bus fleet to fully electric buses. While the price difference between electric and diesel buses is narrowing, it is still quite substantial at about $350,000 per bus. Thanks to federal grants, 14 electric buses are on order and will be in service within the next year. I am committed to doing more, which is why I recommended an additional 5 electric buses. Note that plug-in buses would draw power from a 100% renewable County energy portfolio due to our County law.

Vision Zero – bicycle and pedestrian safety

Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPAS)
The County Executive has recommended cutting funding in the Capital budget that helps us meet our safety goals, including funding for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas (BiPPA), a program I championed that allows us to make fast improvements in the highest need areas of the County. To make safety a higher priority in our infrastructure, I advocated to not only restore funding but to add new funding to those BiPPA programs. We also created specific BiPPAs for Wheaton, Veirs Mill Rd., Silver Spring, and the East County stops of the Purple Line. Now we need to keep it all together in the final budget.

Pedestrian Safety Audits
At Councilmember Rice’s initiative, the Committee recommended adding $100,000 to MCDOT’s budget for pedestrian safety audits. These audits target specific “high-incident” areas and recommend improvements to make them safer. We need more audits.

Street Trees

The County Executive recommended cuts to various programs that plant and maintain trees as well as remove stumps; the Committee did not agree and instead increased funding in future years. Due to funding, the backlog for removing a stump is currently 17 years. That is unacceptable.

Mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities

A few years ago, the County imposed a small charge on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to fund programs that provide transportation for those with disabilities and seniors of limited income. The charge has generated over $5 million for critical programs such as Call-n-Ride and Seniors Ride Free. One of our more challenging problems is ensuring that there are enough taxis and/or ride hailing vehicles that are wheelchair accessible. The Committee discussed ways to use funds from the charge to incentivize more wheelchair accessible vehicles in taxi fleets. We expect the County Executive to transmit an executive regulation in the coming weeks that addresses this issue.

We have a ways to go before we will know what we can afford to add into the final budget. But the Committee’s actions are the right calls.

Best regards

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large


Gaithersburg Book Festival
May 18, 2018

If you are a lover of great books and great writing, I highly encourage you to check out the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Meet authors like Jeffrey Deaver and Lulu Delacre, attend writing workshops for adults, teens, and kids, visit the Brew & Vine Cafe, and much much more. Best of all — entrance is free, parking is free, and it’s awesome all day long.