As an at-large member of the Montgomery County Council, I was shocked when Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) derailed the plan in June with a surprise vote before a regional planning board. Though he secured leverage with the state to get a better deal, Elrich couldn’t get to “yes.”
Just as he calls for halting 5G infrastructure, single-tracking the Purple Line and blocking solar fields in agricultural areas, Elrich is unwilling to back an approach that might disappoint his most unrealistic supporters. So the answer is always “no.”
The agreement that I negotiated will bring funding to one of our longest standing transportation priorities — a high-capacity transit system serving the upcounty. As identified in the resolution that passed the board, the county and state will work together on “construction, final delivery, and operation, funded through ongoing toll revenue,” for a project such as the Corridor Cities Transitway or Bus Rapid Transit on Route 355.
“Funded through toll revenue” is the key element; Maryland will collect toll revenue from the private operators. And a share of that revenue will be devoted to transit.
Some may be surprised by my action, but I have consistently stated that I would support the governor’s project if it is limited to existing right of way, which now it generally is, and includes a large-scale public transportation system. Securing a transit system for the upcounty has been one of my top economic development priorities.
The governor already agreed to drop the Silver Spring side of the Beltway, which would have had significant impacts on Rock Creek Park and many homes and businesses nearby. The state also previously agreed to a request I organized to build exclusive bus-ramps that will be the backbone of a bus rapid transit connection from Montgomery to Tysons, Dulles International Airport and other major destinations in Virginia, which neither Metro nor MARC provide.
The Corridor Cities Transitway has been on the books for decades. It goes from Rockville and Shady Grove through a bioscience hub in Gaithersburg to Germantown and Clarksburg. Another planned transit line is Bus Rapid Transit on 355. Either project will cost well in excess of $600 million, and there has been no prospect for action at the state level for years. Now, the state will use toll revenue to pay for one of them.
Virginia is already proving this path by funding VRE expansion with toll revenue. Maryland is sitting on the sidelines on commuter rail with no funding for MARC expansion. Toll revenue could make MARC expansion possible. But we have to step up to the table.
Many people are surprised to learn that the expansion happens generally within the existing right of way. In Rockville, for example, the lanes repurpose existing pavement and retain two-thirds of existing sound walls. From Virginia to 370, not a single home or business will be taken. Many neighborhoods will see reduced impact compared to the existing highway, as there will be seven miles of new sound walls.
Elrich demanded two reversible lanes instead — an inadequate long-term solution. It is astounding that he would kill a massive state investment in the county over that difference.
Critics of expanding I-270 like to say that Maryland widened I-270 decades ago and it filled back up. In response to that argument, a Montgomery County chief executive said to me, “You know what 270 filled up with? Jobs!!”
He’s right — not only the jobs that have supported this community for the past few decades but also scientific breakthroughs and progress. That executive, John Compton, founded GeneDX, which was one of the first U.S. companies to offer coronavirus testing in 2020.
Montgomery’s economy has the power to save lives and build a better future for us and for the world. We need to help drive progress, not get in the way.
Tysons/Dulles is the center of suburban job growth in the region. Delays on the American Legion Bridge make it harder for our residents to access those jobs and more difficult for companies to locate in the county if they want to have access to the Virginia economic scene.
As a climate activist, I have concluded that stopping this project will not lead instead to more transit-oriented growth. It will just continue shifting Montgomery County’s growth to Virginia. Using toll revenue to build more transit, however, gives us a chance to grow differently.
This project will ensure a stronger economic future for Montgomery County. I’m glad we are moving forward.