With the state’s transportation money dwindling and the increasing population of Montgomery County causing more congestion, some county lawmakers are pushing for alternatives with a “Regional Transportation Funding Summit” in Annapolis.
Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) and Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring helped organize and will attend the meeting of state politicians and transportation activists on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
Berliner announced the summit yesterday during his weekly Monday press conference.
Berliner is concerned that new high-occupancy HOT lanes on the Virginia section of the Beltway will mean a “choking point” for his constituents traveling across the American Legion Bridge. He, along with colleagues in Fairfax County, have asked the Maryland and Virginia state transportation agencies to consider using the shoulder lane of the Bridge for traffic, at least temporarily.
But according to a study last week from the General Assembly’s Office of Policy Analysis, in five years the state won’t have even enough money to maintain its existing roads and transit.
“We’ve made it clear that in the absence of transportation funding, our county’s ability to continue to be the economic engine of the state of Maryland is going to be severely compromised,” Berliner said. “Our competitive position vis a vis Fairfax is going to be severely compromised and our quality of life is going to be compromised.”
The report last week included a few options for raising transportation funding, including tactics other than the gas tax lawmakers such as County Executive Isiah Leggett have supported to no avail.
The state could get the same type of federal loan it got to build the Intercounty Connector, create special taxing districts, use general fund revenues or recruit and enlist private industry to help shoulder some of the costs.
In an interview last month, Leggett spoke about supporting an unpopular statewide gas tax when he first ran for County Executive.
“So seven years of taking all that criticism, guess what? It’s gonna cost us more than it would have cost us if we had done it before. The revenues at the state level transportation fund are low and it potentially will hamper our development,” Leggett said. “Everything I said then, which people criticized, is right on the table now. So the failure to adjust earlier to that and looking at the challenge we have in Montgomery County I think is the greatest threat to us in terms of enhancing our tax base and continuing to have the kind of measured growth we want in Montgomery County.”
Leggett will be at the summit, which Berliner hopes will include Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). Other Bethesda area stakeholders involved in the planning of the meeting or committed to attending include the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and Action Committee for Transit.
The state also has three major projects at an estimated combined cost of almost $5 billion with no funding: the Corridor Cities Transitway, Baltimore’s Red Line and the Purple Line that would connect Bethesda and Chevy Chase to Silver Spring and College Park via an above-ground light rail.
“We have looked across the river and seen what’s going on in Northern Virginia. We have seen the HOT lanes that have started up,” Berliner said. “People look across the river and they say, ‘Really? What’s going in Maryland?’ The answer has to be, ‘No, we can do something. We must do something.’”