Transit advocates are sustaining their push for a gas tax hike in Annapolis amid some discouraging recent news about two projects that could have big impacts in Bethesda.
Last week came word that the Maryland Department of Transportation might halt design funding for the Purple Line if no funding solution is achieved in this legislative session. Monday, the Washington Post reported a Montgomery County-commissioned study from the New-York based Institution for Transportation and Development Policy found only a Rockville Pike route would have enough riders to justify building a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
Barnaby Zall, chair of the nonprofit Friends of White Flint, wrote yesterday that the county should not be discouraged from building BRT on Rockville Pike. He also argued it’s hard to judge the demand for a BRT system, which would mean dedicated bus-only lanes that would allow buses to move past other traffic, until the option is offered.
“The fact that there’s not enough demand for BRT everywhere isn’t a good reason not to start somewhere,” Zall wrote.
Action Committee for Transit President Tina Slater, a member of the county’s Transit Task Force, said she thought the recommendations made by the Task Force on BRT were worthwhile.
“I will say that ITDP is an expert on BRT systems, but they are an expert on international BRT systems, like Bogota, where there are millions of riders,” Slater said. “It was going to be a network, like a web permeating through all parts of the county so you could go north-south, east-west. But then there’s always the fact that we don’t even have the funding to do it.”
At a meeting of ACT on Tuesday night in Silver Spring, Slater urged members, especially those who live outside Montgomery County, to push their state legislators to support raising the gas tax in order to pay for transportation projects such as the Purple Line.
The $2.4 billion, 16-mile light rail that would run from New Carrollton to Bethesda with stops in College Park, Silver Spring, Chevy Chase and other places lacks state funding that would merit matching federal funding already in the pipeline.
While ACT’s meeting on Tuesday included a presentation from Metro on its master plan and a discussion of Metro issues, the Purple Line was very much on the minds of advocates.
Montgomery County leaders have countered opposition by leaders elsewhere in the state who view projects such as the Purple Line as providing them little benefit.
“We keep pushing the idea of Montgomery County, Prince George’s and Baltimore city to a certain extent are the economic engines. If we have congestion, if we can’t move, if people aren’t coming here, if corporations are leaving here, the rest of the state is not going to get any of the money they’re getting now,” said Purple Line Now’s Barbara Sanders. “We don’t get back what we put into the system, generally. Income tax, everything else, we’re the engine that makes it go.”
Ajay Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, is against the Purple Line because a significant part of it would be built on the existing Capital Crescent Trail. Yesterday, Bhatt urged supporters to let legislators know there isn’t universal support for the light rail.
“The Purple Line will add to our traffic woes,” Bhatt wrote in a letter to state leaders. “It justifies more development in dense areas thereby creating more congestion. Governor Martin O’Malley recently recognized 14 existing Metro stations located in underdeveloped neighborhoods. The state would be prudent and efficient if it focused on developing areas already served by transit infrastructure.”
Images via the Maryland Transit Administration and the Montgomery County Planning Department