Tag: Bethesda

Montgomery County Planners Peeking Ahead Into Bethesda’s Future

BETHESDA, Md. — Montgomery County planners are considering what Bethesda will look like in the next 20 years — and what they’re anticipating includes nearly twice as many apartments and a lot more park land.

It was one of the first successful transit-oriented spots in the region. It includes even more people with even more office space, parks, and places to live, and not just in the areas right on top of the Metro station.

Experts like Leslie Howerton, a planner coordinator with the Montgomery County Planning Department, worry there won’t be enough housing to meet demand in the coming decades since the population is expected to surge another 20 to 25 percent.

“Knowing growth is coming we have to put it somewhere… and we feel its best to focus that in urban downtown areas where there’s transit,” Howardson says.

The areas they’re targeting for redevelopment include the offices around the downtown Metro station, including the ones part of the Metro plaza. Other priority areas include the blocks on the north and south ends of downtown along Wisconsin Avenue, and just east of there on East-West Highway.

The next wave of new apartment buildings in downtown Bethesda will have even more units.

Stewart Schwartz with the Coalition for Smarter Growth calls it “Bethesda 2.0.”

“This allows us to reduce the demand on our roadways, making them work better,” Howardson says. “Allowing additional development on top of the Metro station will generate the revenues as well as provide the timing and opportunity to redo the transit center.”

The next public meeting on the drafting of this plan will be held Sept. 17.

Read this on CBS DC >>

As Part Of Multibillion-Dollar Package For Roads, Hogan Says ‘Yes’ To Purple Line

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced a major shift in state transportation spending to prioritize the maintenance and expansion of roads and bridges over investment in mass transit projects.

While unveiling plans to spend $2 billion on roads — including $845 million on entirely new projects — at an Annapolis news conference on Thursday, the governor finally revealed his highly-anticipated decisions for two light rail proposals.

Hogan gave conditional approval to the $2.4 billion Purple Line in the D.C. suburbs but axed the $2.9 billion Red Line in Baltimore. The latter project’s plan to build a $1 billion tunnel was labeled a “fatal flaw.”

Roads are “top priority”

“I’ve made it very clear that building, maintaining, and fixing Maryland’s roads and bridges is our top transportation priority and it is a top priority of our administration,” the Republican governor said.

“In January, our administration inherited a state infrastructure that for years had been severely underfunded. The previous administration slashed funding for local road improvements by up to 96 percent,” said Hogan, whose statewide road building plans mark a clean break from that recent past.

The governor called for $1.3 billion to be added to the $625 million already in the Maryland Department of Transportation’s construction budget for a slew of road and bridge jobs — from widening congested corridors such as Rt. 404 and studying congestion relief on I-270 to repaving 2,000 miles of state highways and “fixing every single structurally deficient bridge in the state.”

Purple Line survives — for now

Since taking office Hogan has called the 16-mile light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton too expensive, ordering the four contractor teams competing for the construction bid to shave hundreds of millions from the its growing price tag.

On Thursday, the governor announced his intention to reduce the state’s upfront commitment for construction by $500 million by 1) running trains less frequently (every 7.5 minutes instead of 6 minutes) and making other unspecified changes to the Purple Line’s scope, 2) asking the private sector firm that wins the long-term concession to front more cash, and 3) squeezing more money out of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

“Under our more efficient and more cost effective version of the Purple Line, the state’s share of the project will be $168 million, a fraction of the original proposal,” Hogan said. “By reducing this cost, we free up hundreds of millions of dollars for other important projects across Maryland.”

The Purple Line’s route and number of stations will not be changed, said Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn.

Will counties show Hogan the money?

Montgomery County executive Ike Leggett has said his county is tapped out, but released a statement following Hogan’s news conference indicating a willingness to work with state officials.

“I look forward to further discussions with the Governor over every aspect of the Purple Line — cost, design, construction schedule, and the role Montgomery County will be able to play in making the Purple Line a reality,” Leggett said.

“Prince George’s County has already committed an extraordinary amount for local governments to contribute toward a state project. I will thoroughly review this proposal along with my budget, finance, economic development, and transportation advisers to assess what this means for Prince George’s County,” said the county executive Rushern Baker in a post-news conference statement.

Transit advocates cautiously praised the project’s conditional approval but were concerned ongoing negotiations over price could further delay a project whose construction was scheduled to begin this year, buttressed by the promise of $900 million in federal aid.

“This is a big lift for Montgomery and Prince George’s County,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a group that opposes highway projects in favor of public transit.

“It is our hope that it doesn’t cause protracted negotiations. It is our hope that the governor is willing to give a little and put more state dollars back into the project, but the key is to not lose the federal funding,” Schwartz said.

Sec. Rahn indicated the state will be ready to make a decision on which contractor team submitted the most effective design changes in the next four to five months, essentially ruling out construction until 2016.

I-270 set for congestion study

There may be no group happier about the idea of spending $2 billion on roads and bridges than AAA Mid-Atlantic, one of the most vocal critics of former Governor Martin O’Malley.

“Governor Hogan hit a grand slam,” said AAA’s Lon Anderson, who echoed Hogan’s criticism that the O’Malley administration siphoned money from the state transportation trust fund for wasteful purposes. “I look at it as a rebalancing. Each administration comes in and sets priorities. The O’Malley administration came in and made transit its focus.”

Anderson said the Maryland Department of Transportation intends to use $100 million to study congestion relief on I-270 similar to how Virginia plans to transform I-66: use existing or additional lane capacity to manage congestion through tolls, HOV restrictions, or boosting bus transit.

“They want to make this a showcase for how technology can help better manage traffic,” Anderson said. “They are going to ask contractors and seek ideas and bids about what they would do on a certain budget to make 270 work better.”

The $100 million will fund a test program called “Innovative Congestion Reduction Strategies.”

A mix of roads and rails

Transit advocates reacted negatively to Hogan’s frugal approach to the Purple and Red Lines on the same day he threw $2 billion at highways, but transportation policy experts said the governor faces a difficult balance in such a diverse state.

“The governor has made it clear he has a priority to fix the roads throughout the state,” said Paul Lewis, director of policy and finance at the Eno Center for Transportation, a D.C. research group.

The suggestion that any project — highway or transit — will reduce congestion is dubious, Lewis said.

“If you look at the projections over the next 25 years, the region is supposed to grow by a million people and that will lead to congestion. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments estimates there will be another 400,000 drivers on the road by 2040,” Lewis said.

“Congestion is going to increase regardless of whether the Purple Line is built. It is more of an economic tool that will help shape new patterns of development in the region. It is an accessibility project that helps diversify the transportation mix to provide options for people,” Lewis said.

In fact, the economic development benefits of the Purple Line were key selling points when local officials relentlessly lobbied Hogan in recent months.

“In a growing region you need to have a diversified transportation network. Most people do get around by the roads but that is not just single occupancy vehicles, It’s also transit buses and carpoolers. Transit is part of that mix,” said Lewis, who said the Eno Center evaluates all projects together rather than separating out highway investments from transit.

Read original article here.

Purple Line advocates try to put a happy face on Hogan’s victory

The Coalition for Smarter Growth press release said that might not be the case, citing a Hogan radio interview in October in which he said he was “not really opposed to either project,” and that both the Purple Line and Red Line are “worth considering.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, Hogan deflected questions about the fate of the Purple Line.
“No one would deny that Hogan is more skeptical about the project than Brown and has expressed that skepticism forcefully at times,” read the release. “But to declare the project terminated before the day-after-the-election is even over is, to say the least, wildly premature. It is important to remember that there is a big difference between campaigning and governing.”

Elrich Thinks Parts Of BRT Will Get Built In Next 4 Years

The Montgomery County Councilmember who is credited with first proposing a Bus Rapid Transit network for the county is optimistic parts of a BRT system will start being built in the next four years.

Councilmember March Elrich (D-At large) also said he thinks ridership projections in the Master Plan for BRT before the Planning Board might actually be too low. Many opponents of a plan to include Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue as a BRT corridor have claimed the ridership numbers in a study by Planning Department staff are inflated.

Elrich talked about where BRT stands on a County Cable Montgomery interview show earlier this month.

“You really can’t predict what ridership will be in the future if you replace the non-choice system with a system might choose to use,” Elrich said, comparing existing Ride On bus service to a potential BRT network. “They might make different choices if a bus ran every six minutes in rush hour and didn’t stop for lights because they had a greenway to go through.”

The “rapid” component of BRT is that the buses in the system would move faster than typical buses because the buses would have exclusive lanes.

That has caused a stir with communities and residents in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, where some don’t want to lose a lane of regular traffic to a bus-only lane. The Master Plan for BRT projects between 44,000 and 49,000 daily riders for a southbound MD 355 system and between 22,000 and 34,000 daily riders for a northbound MD 355 system by 2040.

It is projected to be the busiest of the 10 proposed corridors.

The Planning Board is working through its Master Plan on the system with the hopes of transmitting it to the County Council on July 22. The fourth and final planned worksession is July 11.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a D.C.-based advocacy group is pushing for signatures on a pro-BRT petition. The Coalition’s executive director testified in favor of the BRT Master Plan at the Planning Board’s public hearing on it.

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Testimony to Ms. Lynn Robeson, Esq., Zoning Hearing Examiner Re: 4831 West Lane LLC, Local Map Amendment G-954 and Development Plan Amendment DPA 13-01

Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Our organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington, D.C. region, including the Maryland suburbs, accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.

We want to express our strong support for the West Lane multi-family residential project because it enhances the diversity of housing choices and number of MPDUs within such close proximity to the Bethesda Metro station. This is a great benefit to the county and the region because the building provides more housing, especially affordable housing, in a job-rich area, next to Metro. This reduces overall traffic in the region, shortens commutes, reduces household transportation costs, and gives more moderate income households access to the jobs and amenities of a highly desirable community.

After reviewing the proposed plans and public record, consulting with residents, and walking the site, we believe that the project offers its housing benefits through a sensitive and appropriate approach to the building design. The proposed building provides an attractive contribution to a pedestrian-oriented environment and complements the existing nearby residential buildings.

We are especially pleased to see the building’s relationship to Montgomery Lane which forms a supportive urban pedestrian environment. The existing and planned buildings along the north side of Montgomery Lane form a continuous street edge, which the proposed West Lane building completes. The 12 foot upper story setback provides visual interest to the building and addresses concerns of neighbors. A greater setback is not necessary or desirable. A greater setback will not further enhance the ground-level pedestrian environment. In addition, further unnecessary shrinkage of the building could threaten the number of MPDUs provided, while offering no increased public benefit.

The public use space provided at the corner of West Lane and Montgomery Lane is a good approach if it incorporates the main entrance of the building. The public use space at this location achieves two important objectives. It decreases the mass of the building by stepping back the building’s frontage, but still maintains the important building line along the street edge. It also provides a usable urban public space for people to wait or meet friends. The success of the public use space is dependent upon the entrance of the building opening up onto the public use space.

The appropriately scaled building and the well planned public use space are compatible with the neighborhood. The increased number of units ensures more pedestrians on the street – which is consistent with the Sector Plan and a benefit to all. The Sector Plan’s housing diversity goals are also furthered by the West Lane project. The proposed units are smaller and more affordable than those offered in surrounding buildings and include a substantial number of MPDUs – all within 950 feet of the Metro station.

For all of these reasons, the Coalition for Smarter Growth urges approval of the 4831 West Lane project.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Cheryl Cort
Policy Director

At $80,000 per Space, Proposed Bethesda Parking Garage Needs a Second Look

In the midst of painful budget cuts and transit fare increases, the Montgomery County Council is on the verge of voting to spend $89 million, or $80,000 per space, for a 1,150 space parking garage in the heart of the walking and biking-oriented Bethesda Row district. The new garage will be adjacent to the Capital Crescent Trail and a block away from the planned South entrance of the Bethesda Metro station. The Council’s transportation committee voted for the garage on Friday, before sending the issue to the full Council.