Author: Danny Levi

D.C.-region smart-growth organization releases transit report

Earlier this week, the Coalition for Smarter Growth issued a report on the Washington, D.C. region’s public transportation, including a set of nine principles to guide long-term regional planning for the next generation of transit. The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a non-profit, works to promote smart growth in the Washington, D.C. region.

For those living or working in Washington, D.C., Maryland or Virginia who ever tried to travel to one of the three major area airports, work, or activities and errands without driving a car, they know that Metro serves as a backbone of our regional public transportation network, and they understand that this network includes numerous transit entities that cross local jurisdictional lines.

Relying in part on 2012 and 2013 reports on next-generation transit goals issued by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, respectively, the March 4, 2013 Coalition for Smarter Growth’s primer summarizes plans to grow the Metro system and to expand public transportation.

The report discusses six ongoing transit initiatives: Metrorail’s 23-mile Silver Line extension in Virginia; a new eight-line light-rail and streetcar network throughout D.C.; Metrorail’s Purple Line cross-county connection in Maryland; a new 5-mile streetcar service along a mixed-use corridor in Arlington and Fairfax Virginia; three rapid bus transportation corridors in Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia; and a 160-mile rapid bus transportation system in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The report, “Thinking Big Planning Smart,” states that its purpose “is to get you involved in creating a vision and plan for the new public transportation investments we need to link together our region’s ever-growing number of livable, walkable centers and neighborhoods.” The Coalition offers the 35-page report as a primer on the next generation of transit and a resource on already-planned regional transit proposals in progress.

As Aimee Custis, Communication Manager at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, wrote on the popular blog Greater Greater Washington, “[the] report is both a call to action and a baseline resource.”

Photo courtesy of Doug Canter.

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New group forms to push for Maryland transportation funding

A new group has formed in Maryland to urge legislators to find new revenue options to fund transportation projects.

The group — Get Maryland Moving — is comprised of various advocacy organizations, including Purple Line Now and the Red Line Now PAC in Baltimore, Coalition for Smarter Growth, and the Maryland League of Women Voters and the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, amongst others.

The group is asking Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly to make transportation funding a priority in this legislative session.

O’Malley used part of his annual State of the State speech last month to talk about Maryland’s “worst traffic congestion in the country” and the need for money for the near-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund but offered no details. An O’Malley spokeswoman said he is working with the legislature to work out a plan.

Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund pays for road and bridge maintenance, as well as other projects such as light rail, including the proposed Purple and Red lines. The fund has enough money to pay only for current maintenance and is projected to run out of cash by 2018.

Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

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Roger Berliner: Saving Purple Line requires governor’s involvement

Without new money the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway may be put on hold, and one Montgomery County councilmember believes the governor needs to take a more active role so that doesn’t happen.

“I don’t think the governor has gotten engaged as much as he needs to,” said Councilmember Roger Berliner at an event with the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“It pains to read the paper that in Virginia they’re going to pass a gas tax. They’re closer to it than we are, with Gov. McDonnell pushing it, cutting deals to make it happen. I don’t see it in Maryland,” Berliner said.

The Maryland Department of Transportation recently told the Montgomery County Council that the transportation projects would be put on hold.

Montgomery County Chair Nancy Navarro and Councilman Berliner sent them a letter calling the idea “unacceptable.”

“Nothing will happen right away in the new fiscal year on July 1,” Acting Deputy Secretary of Transportation Leif Dormsjo told WTOP.

“We would gradually wind down the project over the months. The consultants would be let go and the money would be reallocated to other purposes.”

Dormsjo said the shutdown date would likely be late summer, with the money for both projects redirected for MARC trains and MTA buses.

“I don’t understand the transportation department’s position. They’ve invested so much in this program. They need to work with the legislature and find the money,” says Berliner.

Dormsjo says the transportation department is working with lawmakers and remains optimistic that a deal will be reached.

“It has been extremely frustrating. Every time we’re close to construction, we run into a funding issue,” says Barbara Sanders of Silver Spring, who is active in the push to build the Purple Line.

The 16-mile light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton would cost about $2.15 billion and is slated to open in 2020, although a delay could push back the date several years.

“We need this job centers in Bethesda, Silver Spring to New Carrollton interconnected. It’s critical to the revitalization of these communities. It’s critical for people to avoid this crushing Beltway traffic,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“The problem will only get worse if we don’t give them options like the Purple Line,” Schwartz said.

“Current ridership data suggests that there very few riders today that are making the New Carrollton-to-Bethesda trip. The Purple Line would actually increase demand on the existing Metro system and at our core stations. We are currently out of capacity in our core stations,” says Shyam Kannan, director of planning for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the agency that runs the subway.

Kannan says the Purple Line would only increase the need for Momentum, an effort from the agency to increase rail and bus capacity to deal with rising population and demand.

“I want construction to start 2015, as planned. I don’t want another five-year delay. It would be awful,” says Ben Ross with the Action Committee for Transit of Montgomery County.

Delegate Mike Smigiel, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, opposes raising the gas tax and replenishing the Transportation Trust Fund because he thinks it’ll drive Maryland residents to Virginia and Delaware to fill up their tanks.

Smigiel and other critics also are unwilling to accept tax increases on all Marylanders to help pay for projects that only benefit Baltimore and Montgomery County.

Smigiel points to the InterCounty Connector, partially financed with tax dollars, as an example of what he calls a “boondoggle.”

“This transportation funding issue isn’t just about transit like the Purple Line. This is also about money to deal with a huge backlog of road projects. The rural areas have roads with potholes, roads that need paving and aging bridges,” said Schwartz.

“There are people who don’t like Montgomery County because of our role in the state, but the reality is that we provide 30 percent of the tax revenues for the state. We are the economic engine for the state of Maryland. If you plug the engine, it’s not good for Western Maryland, Baltimore or Southern Maryland,” Berliner said.

The Department of Transportation tells WTOP that it’s drafting a letter in response to the Montgomery County Council that will be sent in the next few weeks.

Read the original article on WTOP.

Photo courtesy of Ari Ashe.