Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett testifed Wednesday morning before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on “State and Local Perspectives on Transportation.” (His appearance had been scheduled for 2 p.m. but was moved to earlier in the day.)
Here is his prepared testimony:
“Good morning Committee members, and a special thanks to Senator Cardin for inviting me to testify before you today.
My name is Isiah Leggett, County Executive of Montgomery County, Maryland. Montgomery County is literally next door to the nation’s capital and home to over 250 biotech companies and industry leaders such as Human Genome Sciences, MedImmune, and United Therapeutics.
We have 19 federal facilities in the County including NIST, the NRC, FDA, NIH, and the future home of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in Bethesda.
More than one-third of Montgomery County is dedicated to our agricultural preserve, which makes our transportation program atypical of a metropolitan suburban community, but more a mix of rural, suburban and urban transportation priorities.
As part of the Washington region, we have the unenviable distinction of having one of the highest levels of traffic congestion and delays in the United States —
We have such congestion even though we are second, only to New York City, in the total percentage of commuters using transit or carpools daily.
Our major interstate highways, the Washington Metrorail and Metrobus system, and the County’s 300 local-bus system, one of the largest in the nation, cannot keep pace with area traffic demands. With this in mind, I particularly appreciate the chance to share a few thoughts with the Committee as you work toward developing a transportation reauthorization bill.
Earlier this year, Montgomery County identified a more than $1 billion shortfall in design and construction projects on state roads, and an additional $4 billion in backlogged state transportation projects that have not completed environmental analysis.
The situation is so dire on our state roads-- which carry our largest traffic volumes-- our County had to take the unusual step on several occasions to provide significant local funds for state projects. Now that we are facing severe local funding constraints, Montgomery County can no longer afford to provide such funds when our own roadway system has many unfunded local transportation requirements in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Our traffic problems will deteriorate even further with the unexpected consequences of a major BRAC move to our County.
The impact of federal facility decisions on state and local transportation is significant and expensive, particularly in urban areas. Therefore, any program changes being considered by the Committee should be done very carefully with strong local and state participation on the impact of such changes.
A recent study by the National Academy of Science verified what we in Montgomery County already know: that the BRAC consolidation of the two hospitals in Bethesda, while meritorious in its intent to establish a world class military medical facility, failed to account for impacts on the local transportation infrastructure. The potential gridlock around the Bethesda facility could be so severe that patients and doctors may be denied timely access to the facility.
Yet, Montgomery County and the State of Maryland lack the funds to fully implement transportation projects to mitigate BRAC-related gridlock. In reauthorizing the federal highway program that includes the Defense Access Roads program, I would urge the Committee to increase the role of federal, state and local transportation agencies. We should also increase funding overall for this program, and allow mass transit improvements to account for DAR-eligible needs in urban areas.
We must streamline the environmental review and approval process for all federally-aided transportation projects. A recent successful example of the streamlining process is in the middle of Montgomery County. The Inter County Connector (ICC) project was planned in the 1950’s. Several attempts to obtain federal approval failed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but through the Environmental Streamlining Process, in less than three years, state and regulatory agencies were able to complete a process that had failed after decades of discussion and millions of dollars in studies.
We need more of this collaborative approach which recognizes important environmental protections while permitting the provision of vital transportation projects that ultimately promote significant economic development and job growth.
Our transportation needs are great but current resources are inadequate. We need to find ways to increase revenue in the transportation trust fund and continue funding New Starts. We must look at an increase in the federal gas tax and index it to a reliable indicator.
But, if we cannot agree to this, then we should look at other revenue sources, such as a transportation tax surcharge on goods used primarily for transportation-related products, for example a tax on auto and truck batteries, tires and replacement parts.
Simply maintaining insufficient current levels of funding will continue our downward trend of failing infrastructure. Our competitiveness in the global marketplace will be reduced when our productivity is hampered by daily intolerable levels of congestion, poorly maintained and unreliable roads, or aging transit systems without the proper funding support to maintain acceptable levels of safety, efficiency and reliability.
We must find ways to make it easier for local governments to obtain federal transportation funds. The Federal Bridge program is an example of a successful federal transportation program that benefits state and local governments. More federal funding should be made available to local jurisdictions following a similar protocol.
As we look toward job growth, it is clear that with most of our local roadway system already in place our economic development is directly tied to improved mass transit to serve both private and public sector employees.
To address this, we need to think more about people-moving capacity rather than just vehicle-moving capacity. Today, Metrorail, Metrobus and our local bus system have combined daily boardings in excess of 225,000-- demands that far exceed our area’s roadway capacity.
It is important that Congress continue the New Starts Program which gives us the opportunity to compete for federal funds to build the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Purple Line, and to advance a Bus Rapid Transit system in our County.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to describe the transportation challenges that we are facing in Montgomery County, Maryland. I look forward to following your progress as you work to develop a multi-year transportation reauthorization bill.”