Democracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland Politics

How a debate over a Montgomery County road project revealed new information about Amazon incentives

By Jennifer Barrios

March 8, 2018 at 5:29 PM

A map shows the route of the planned Montrose Parkway East in Montgomery County. (Courtesy of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation/Montgomery County Department of Transportation)

The list was supposed to be secret — a closely guarded summary of $2 billion in transportation projects the state of Maryland will fund in Montgomery County if Amazon builds its coveted second headquarters there.

But secrets can be hard to keep.

And so it came to pass that, as a Montgomery County Council committee sparred Thursday over whether to delay a long-planned parkway extension near the potential Amazon site, one lawmaker let a crucial piece of information slip.

“The governor’s commitment for that $2 billion includes this project,” said transportation committee chair Roger Berliner (D-District 1), explaining why he believes the county should delay spending its own money to build a $142 million four-lane roadway known as Montrose Parkway East in the White Flint section of North Bethesda. “So if in fact we get Amazon, the dollars will be there.”

His declaration prompted council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), who is not on the committee but was attending the meeting, to ask Berliner whether he had confidential information about Amazon incentives he had not shared with the council.

Council member Roger Berliner (D-District 1)

Berliner quickly tried to cover himself.

“It is possible that I, quote, spoke out of turn, if in fact that this is, quote, confidential information,” he said. “It was information that I believed to be true, or I would not have given it voice.”

In an interview, Berliner said all council members, including Leventhal, knew which projects were included in the state’s $2 billion offer, even if they were not supposed to tell.

“The council, in closed session, was provided a listing of projects distributed to the state for the purposes of funding and [that] were included in the governor’s $2 billion proposal,” Berliner said.

The county’s transportation director, Al Roshdieh, said he couldn’t confirm whether Montrose Parkway East was on the list.

“I cannot disclose what is on the list of these transportation items for Amazon, but there are a host of improvements both from transit, roads, intersections, pedestrian mobility and everything else,” Roshdieh told council members during the meeting.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) transportation secretary did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Amazon’s search for a second headquarters site has spurred enormous excitement in Montgomery and 19 other jurisdictions being considered for the project, which the retail giant says would create 50,000 well-paid jobs and other economic benefits. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.) Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., are two other finalists.

Maryland has offered a total of $5 billion in potential incentives to lure Amazon, $2 billion of which is transportation-related.

The transportation committee eventually voted 2-1 to recommend that the full council delay funding Montrose Parkway East for three years.

Berliner and council member Tom Hucker (D-District 5) supported the delay, saying the county has more pressing transit needs. Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), who supports fully funding the roadway, voted against the delay and said the committee should put the decision on hold until Amazon announces where it plans to go.

“We have 19 other jurisdictions watching us to see what we’re going to do about infrastructure to support possibly the greatest economic development opportunity that we might ever have,” Floreen said. Tabling the discussion, she added, would mean “we wouldn’t be in the position of eliminating our efforts to court an opportunity that I think this community universally supports.”

The full council will consider the committee’s recommendations on March 20.


Jennifer Barrios is a reporter covering Montgomery County government and politics. Previously, she was an editor and reporter at Newsday on Long Island, and a reporter at the Austin (Tex.) American-Statesman.

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Maryland Politics

How a debate over a Montgomery County road project revealed new information about Amazon incentives

By Jennifer Barrios

March 8, 2018 at 5:29 PM

A map shows the route of the planned Montrose Parkway East in Montgomery County. (Courtesy of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation/Montgomery County Department of Transportation)

The list was supposed to be secret — a closely guarded summary of $2 billion in transportation projects the state of Maryland will fund in Montgomery County if Amazon builds its coveted second headquarters there.

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