Thursday, September 11, 2008

What Maryland's Transportation Funding Cuts Mean to Us

What can I say? This is devastating news to Montgomery County. While transportation continues to be the top priority for Montgomery County residents, we’ve been hit with huge cuts to transportation funding from the State of Maryland.

Our number one congestion relief project--the construction of an interchange to replace the stoplights at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road--will be delayed at least three years.

Our two major transit projects, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway, represent the backbone of our transportation future, but they were slashed by $25 million (19%) and $42.5 million (47%) respectively over the next six years.

Also on the chopping block:
RideOn Grant: The $5M that was added from ’09 revenue increase has been taken away
BRAC: Was to receive an additional $45M but is now cut by $16M
Montgomery Hills Project Planning Study: The $3M was cut altogether
I-270 Watkins Mill Interchange: Cut by $6.5M

Certainly I support transit everywhere all the time, but I’m a little puzzled that the Baltimore Red Line was cut by only $17.6 million (7%) over the next six years and got additional money for fiscal years 2010-2012 to keep the project on schedule.

There’s a lot to work through, but you can bet that I will continue to stand up for road and transit funding. Tune in to the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee on September 15 as we take on these important issues. I’m mulling some ideas based on the Working Group on Infrastructure Financing Report from last October and my June forum on the county’s reliance on the property tax. We’ve got some big decisions ahead, and this is one of those cases where choosing to do nothing is still a big choice. Take a look at these reports, and let me know what you think.


The Athens Project said...

When the state is asked to pay for the $3,000,000,000 toll road ICC, is this truly a surprise?

I really must register a degree of impatience if it is. The environmentalist community has not just been sending constant warnings of pollution, greenspace loss, and wetlands destriuction. They have, upon numerous occasions, pointed out the economic blow being dealt to the state budget.

I wonder if there is any reward in store for this tireless team of Cassandras.

The mass transit projects you listed that the environmentalists have clamored for amount to chump change against the ICC hefty sum.

The interchanges, as I pointed out in 2006, would alleviate congestion not just in the East-West direction like the ICC, but North-South as well. Now, these relatively minor fixes are going to come AFTER the limited relief provided by the ICC.

Perhaps going forward we can cast a more skeptical eye to the claims of urgency that will be forthcoming for M83 (Mid-County Highway extension to Clarksville), the rest of the Montrose Parkway, and the Techway. I expect talk of the urgency of the Techway to begin 2013. Perhaps we can retain this sense of buyer's remorse that long.

--Bill Jacobs
Coordinator, Athens Project
President, Montgomery Green Democrats

Anne said...

It is definitely time to rethink transportation in Montgomery County, in Maryland, and in the country. But let's start with Montgomery County. The dire need to immediately reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with market forces driving energy costs to heights that hurt a lot of people, should, in a logical world, mean we really FOCUS on alternatives to cars. And I mean "focus" as in fund transit, bikeways, and pedestrian amenities FIRST. It's clearly time to climb out of the financial pit of new highway building, e.g., the ICC. I urge the County Council to press Governor O'Malley to stop any further letting of contracts and explore extricating Maryland from the contracts already let. The forests already destroyed can be replanted, and the bridge already built over Shady Grove Rd. will provide an excellent wildlife overpass and bikeway.

As to that grade separated interchange at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road aimed at speeding car and truck traffic at the expense of pedestrian traffic, now delayed 3 years: let it die. Put the resources instead into a COMPREHENSIVE rapid transit system using dedicated lanes on our arterials. The Purple Line is just the beginning of what we need in the way of transit if we're to survive in the 21st century.

Councilmember Nancy Floreen said...

Bill – Thanks, as always, for your comments. Let’s keep the transportation funding debacle in perspective. The ICC is a convenient poster child for projects some don’t like. But we in Montgomery County did not criticize the Woodrow Wilson Bridge expenditures (over $1.3 billion), picked fights with the current I-95 project north of Baltimore (depending on what you count costing at least $1 billion), nor for that matter, other projects elsewhere. Our assumption is that each jurisdiction has good and valid reasons for them, and my hope is that, every so often, Montgomery County gets a piece of the action as well. As you probably know, the Purple Line and CCT projects are collectively valued at anywhere from 2 to 3 billion dollars. And other planned and desired improvements are estimated to bring the total far higher, when all is said and done.

The point is simply that this all costs a boatload. We certainly need to find reliable ways to prioritize and pay for them, and once we do, we need to exercise appropriate oversight. But once we have resolved those policy issues – with a full and frank debate - we need to move on to the next one.

Councilmember Nancy Floreen said...

Ann, The problem is that our time honored traffic tests actually mandate this sort of solution.

MaryF said...

The ICC is an immense boondoggle in the making. It's true intention is not to ease congestion -which it will only make much worse- but to make money for special interests. That's why, for example, the Chamber of Commerce promoted it so heavily with their slick posters and such at the public input meetings.

The Purple Line, in contrast, will move the masses while getting traffic OFF of the roads.

Any government official who is genuinely looking out for the public interest will do all they can to kill the ICC and put that astronomical amount of money toward projects that will actually benefit the public. No more excuses!! We can't afford them.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should worry less about getting a "piece of the action" and worry more about what's most prudent for the county. Perhaps if we weren't so beholden to developers, contractors and unions we wouldn't have allowed such irresponsible over-development and wouldn't be in such need of the inevitable associated infrastructure costs. (By the way, the "time honored traffic tests" are honored for what reason? Can anyone point to one that actually achieved it's stated goal. I've lived in Montgomery County for 40 years and I can't remember one. Maybe someone can remember one from before that??

oهδ said...

First off I think Montgomery County is doing a lot of great things and generally making some good hard decisions and you should be thanked for your roll in that. But transportation funding and priorities is a big problem and it will be no easy task to change its momentum.

There is no doubt that traffic congestion is problem and one I would like to see solved but in trying make a case that the State should spend money to accommodate me and my single occupancy vehicle I came up with a "mere" $1.4M as my cost of the 191 feet of road I need to travel 60mph on. You can try and whittle down that number but the point is accommodating single occupancy vehicles is darn expensive and cost more then the money they are putting into the system, that's why we have the problems we do.

Personally I would love to see some current roads or lanes on highways converted to toll lanes, that way those who want and can afford to travel with less congestion can do so. But it is hard to get people to start chanting "I want to pay more to drive congestion free." and that is another reason why we have the problems we do. By making driving as cheep as possible has allowed vehicular miles to increase at a rate 3 times faster then the population. For every 2 car family that moves into Maryland is like getting 6 more cars on the road and this is something that cannot be maintained.

The ICC and it's greater cost per mile then the Bay Bridge even after accounting for inflation is no doubt currently a big strain and one I do not personally support especially with the negative impacts on the trail. If things are that tight that a complete trail can't be built as well it should not be done.

The current state of affairs has lead me to save time and cut through congestion by bicycling, which is unfortunately a task few are willing to undertake on our car centric roads. It seems we would rather see a 20% increase in rush hour traffic then make schools a safe place for kids to walk and bike to. We need transportation options.

More of the same that has brought us to this situation should not be tolerated. We need more stress on bicycling, mass transit and toll lanes to restore a balanced use of the transportation system.


Anonymous said...

Nancy, sometimes leaders have to make unpopular choices to serve the greater good. While it's unfortunate the Georgia/Randolph interchange project has ton wait (I live nearby), I'm glad we are moving forward with the ICC.

You can't have growth without infrastructure, and you can't get from Greenbelt to Gaithersburg on a bike twice a day (at least most of us).

The only think I'm here to compain about is your proposed $250 tax on parking spaces. Don't nickel and dime the people who have businesses here. That may be chump change for those in the southwest parts of the county, but everywhere else it hurts.

Anonymous said...

I could get from Greenbelt to Giathersburg on a bike twice a day. I did it last year because I didn't want to chance schools.

It is regretful that they have decided to cut funding when our transporation really needs it. I'm disappointed, but this wasn't unexpected.

Hmm. That is true. Montgomery County does rely on the property tax of homeowners. Increasing taxes might be necessary. Charging people for commuter parking.. Hmm.. I don't know.

Julie White said...

Many well-meaning people have been sold a "bill of goods" regarding the purple line. It will increase congestion on the already crowded Connecticut Avenue corridor and won't take cars off the road. Doesn't anyone wonder why the Chevy Chase Land Company has so "generously" offered to fund a station at the intersection of the Purple Line and Connecticut? It's because the property it owns would become incredibly valuable if the line is built. To take cars off the road, triple the bus service along East-West Highway between Silver Spring and Bethesda. The existing businesses along that corridor will see immediate improvement and residents along the corridor will give up their cars when buses come more frequently.

Anonymous said...

Nancy - please don't compare the ICC to the Wilson Bridge project or I-95. Both of these projects carry orders of magnitude more vehicles than the ICC. Frankly, Georgia Ave. and Randolph carry way more traffic compared to the state's own optimistic traffic estimates for the ICC.

The sad fact is that Montgomery County got the ICC, and the rest of the state is going to hold this against us for a long, long time before funding major transportation initiatives specific to the county.

A. Harvey said...

I'd like to express concern about the proposed parking tax in Montgomery County. I know that tax will somehow be passed on the employees. With all transportation costs going up, I've been granted the privilege to work from home most days. If I had to pay to park for the few days I do go into the office, I'd never see my colleagues. It may be a small thing for some but honestly, combine that with tightened budgets in all categories, I'm turning into a hermit! (no eating out, no going to work, "staycations", etc.) Please consider the true impact of this tax. Thanks!