The increase in Maryland’s fuel tax, signed into law by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) last week, is projected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Montgomery County road and transit projects, including two major projects in Gaithersburg.
The proposed Corridor Cities Transitway bus rapid transit system and an interchange on Interstate 270 at Watkins Mill Road are among 10 new projects — totalling $1.2 billion in spending — that will benefit from the increase in revenue.
The Corridor Cities Transitway is a 15-mile system of dedicated bus right-of-way that will run from the Shady Grove Metro Station in Rockville to the COMSAT site in Clarksburg. The first part of the route, between Shady Grove and the Metropolitan Grove MARC station, will receive $100 million for final design work and for rights of way.
“That project will still require a significant amount more to get the project fully funded,” said Tom Lonergan, Gaithersburg’s director of economic development.
The source of those remaining funds — expected to be upward of $400 million — has not yet been determined. Construction on the system is expected to begin in fall 2018.
Lonergan said the $125 million allocated for the Watkins Mill interchange will be used for final design and construction costs of the $165 million project.
The interchange will link two unfinished portions of Watkins Mill Road over I-270 in Gaithersburg. Drivers will be able to enter and exit I-270 from Watkins Mill Road, providing relief to the intersection of Md. 355 and Montgomery Village Avenue.
Watkins Mill Road west of Rt 355 is a dead end that is currently used for parking by construction crews working nearby. The fuel tax revenue will be used to complete the interchange with Interstate 270.The state budgeted about $40 million to the interchange project earlier this year, Lonergan said.
“It should get the job done,” Lonergan said.
County Councilman Phillip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg said the interchange would encourage economic development in the upcounty as well as relieving congestion.
“I’m very pleased to see [the projects] moving forward,” he said.
Also funded, the proposed Purple Line light rail system which will run from New Carrollton to Bethesda. The project is projected to cost $2.2 billion in total, and will receive $280 million for final design work from the tax revenue.
“Without the new funding, these critical transit projects could not have moved forward,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Transit projects are the ideal way for the county to accommodate its traffic and growth and to remain competitive in the future, Schwartz said.
Construction on the Purple Line could begin as early as 2015 for a 2020 opening; daily ridership is expected to reach 69,000 by 2040, according to the state Department of Transportation.
The transportation funding law indexes the state’s current 23.5-cent-per-gallon fuel tax — which has not been increased since 1992 — to inflation but limits increases to 8 percent per year.
A sales tax of up to 5 percent also is added to the wholesale price of fuel, to be phased in throughout three years. If the federal Marketplace Fairness Act is adopted, the new sales tax would be limited to 3 percent.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who has been an advocate for increased state funding for transportation, praised the new law after the bill-signing, saying that it would support thousands of jobs in Montgomery County by allowing projects to move forward. The new law is expected to support 57,200 jobs over the next six years, according to the O’Malley administration.
Photo courtesy of Dan Gross/The Gazette