Budget Part 3: Transportation and Climate

Dear Resident:

The latest report from the U.N. panel on climate change delivered a stark warning, but also a pragmatic path forward. We need to act, now, at all levels of government and society to reduce and eventually eliminate our emissions.

The task ahead of us is enormous, but it is achievable. We know what we need to do, and we have all the tools we need. One of those tools is to generate much more clean energy. We need to electrify our buildings and make them more efficient. We need to transition the transportation sector to electric and invest heavily in transit, biking, and walking.

Fortunately, doing these things needn’t mean living with less and paying more for it. Done smartly and deliberately, greening our homes and vehicles presents enormous upside for jobs and economic growth as we invest in new technologies and upgrading buildings, appliances, and machinery. As President Biden has said, “When I think about climate change, I think about jobs. Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation ready to be fired up.”

It is in that spirit that I approached this year’s budget. I am happy to report that we took major steps forward this year as a result of initiatives that I championed.

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Transit in the 270 Corridor

Dear Resident:

Last summer the majority of the Council and the Governor reached an agreement to fund a major new transit project as part of the Governor’s plans to add capacity on the American Legion Bridge and 270 in his Opportunity Lanes project.

You may have been asking yourself, “what transit project are we going to build?” Well, the Council is going to answer that question in the next couple months. But first, we want public engagement on the question.

The process begins with a public hearing on February 15, 2022 for the Corridor Forward: I-270 Transit Plan. That plan addresses future transit investments in the area.

Because the Corridor Forward plan is so closely related to the objectives of funding transit through the Opportunity Lanes funds, we are asking residents to provide testimony on the Corridor Forward plan generally and how to prioritize immediate investments in a new transit system paid for by the Opportunity Lanes project.

Now the County Executive has proposed that we use funding from Opportunity Lanes to pay for Bus Rapid Transit on 355 and Veirs Mill. His recommended transportation construction budget shows $170 million. That’s just a downpayment towards the full cost of construction and operations.

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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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