Tag: metro

RELEASE: Coalition for Smarter Growth Responds to Failure of Regional Leaders to Address WMATA’s Ridership Challenges

Press Statement
For Immediate Release
October 3, 2018

Stewart Schwartz, 703-599-6437 (c)
Aimee Custis, 202-431-7185 (c)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Sun., Sept. 30, 2018, the Washington Post ran a story detailing the failure of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority board members to commit to increasing Metrorail service.

In Sunday’s Post story, the elected and appointed officials charged with the stewardship of our region’s rail and bus system refused to say that they would unite as a body to run more trains, more often, in order to increase ridership. Such a move would follow the demands of riders, the recommendations of consultants, and well-known industry best practices.

National Transit Database data show that Metrorail ridership is down about 25 percent from a decade ago. Five of the past 12 months have set new record lows.

“We know this is primarily due to unreliable service and unreasonable wait times for trains,” says Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Schwartz continues, “These long wait times, especially during nights and weekends, have made other modes of transportation, like biking and ride-hailing, more attractive and more realistic to use than Metrorail.”

Schwartz says, “WMATA’s own consultants, hired to study declining ridership, have made clear to WMATA what has been intuitive to its customers for years: while there is increased competition from ridesharing services, low gas prices, and telecommuting, the primary cause of Metro’s ridership slide is reduced frequency, and especially reduced off-peak frequency on evenings and weekends.”

In his comments to the Post, board member Christian Dorsey did identify the need for “more service generally,” and “less disruption in service through closings and maintenance activities,” including during off-peak hours. But advocates say that taken in total, the WMATA board’s comments to the Post show Metro’s board pursuing goals that do not align with the realities of how transit works for the people who use it. As has been shown time and again, frequent, reliable service is the most important factor in attracting and retaining people who ride transit.

Moreover, elected officials in local and state jurisdictions where WMATA operates have not committed to providing the necessary operating funding to make frequent, reliable service possible.

While the Post reported solely on Metrorail, urgent attention must also be paid to Metrobus and other area bus services. A lack of political will to install and enforce dedicated bus lanes or signals — so buses can avoid the congestion of personal cars and move more people — means that bus performance is slowing alongside Metrorail.

“We support frequent, reliable public transit that connects the region. We stand fully behind WMATA when it takes steps to realize that reality,” says Schwartz. “We have worked closely with the agency as it has taken steps toward reform, fought for dedicated bus lanes, and campaigned successfully for its first-ever dedicated capital funding as part of the MetroNow coalition. We fought hard for this with the understanding that reliable financial resources for capital spending would enable WMATA, and its board, to focus on not just restoring, but improving, Metrorail service.

“WMATA’s stewards and elected officials representing the jurisdictions it serves are falling short in protecting the freedom and accessibility that transit service is central to providing to area residents. Frequent and reliable service increases transit ridership. It provides freedom and greater access to jobs and services. We need the board and regional elected officials to commit emphatically to improving service and ridership.”


About the Coalition for Smarter Growth
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at smartergrowth.net.

RELEASE: Business and nonprofit organizations reject stopgap approach to funding Metro

November 9, 2017

Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth
(703) 599-6437

TJ Ducklo, Greater Washington Partnership

WASHINGTON, DC — In response to reporting today about a stopgap spending measure for the Metrorail system, a diverse group of regional stakeholders representing Metro riders, businesses, nonprofits and advocates are calling for more urgent action to transform Metro—immediately.

A one-year funding patch for Metro repairs is short-sighted and does not prioritize the system or a long-term solution. Taking action in the legislative sessions starting in January 2018 is critical. We cannot delay until 2019 when the needs today are so urgent. Failure to address Metro’s funding and governance crisis immediately is not an option.

A temporary stopgap measure is simply not sufficient to support the types of changes necessary to bring Metro—and the regional economy as a whole—into the future effectively. Voters are expecting our elected leaders to stand up and lead. In a recent survey, 70 percent of registered voters from across the region said they would support an increase in public funding to improve the Metrorail system.

Funding alone is not enough to transform Metro into the transit system we need. Comprehensive reform across funding, governance and operations will bring about the greatest benefit to the region and the people who depend on Metro every day. A safe and reliable public transit system will strengthen the region’s economic growth, help make the area more environmentally friendly, and improve the quality of life for our growing population.

We are continuing to work with our elected leaders to make sure Metro continues to power our region’s success for the long term.


Federal City Council

Greater Washington Board of Trade

2030 Group

Greater Washington Partnership

Coalition for Smarter Growth

Greater Greater Washington

Maryland Center on Economic Policy

Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance

Washington Area Bicyclist Association

Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce

Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers

Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance

DC Sustainable Transportation

The Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce


STATEMENT: Reaction to WMATA General Manager Wiedefeld’s Metro Repair Plan

May 6, 2016

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
(703) 599-6437

Tackling this Challenge — Together

WASHINGTON, DC – In response to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s Metro repair plan statement this morning at Metro Headquarters, Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz issued the following statement.

“We have been impressed by the strong, deliberative leadership of WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. Therefore, as a community and as Metro riders, we need to work together with the GM and the agency to get the job done. We need the roll up the sleeves attitude of Americans who’ve worked together after major natural disasters or mobilized for war.

“While those of us outside the agency will not be turning wrenches, we can support the funding WMATA will need and work with our employers to plan alternative ways to commute. And it won’t work if everyone jumps into their cars. Expanded bus service, telecommuting, flex-time, and carpooling will be critical for longer distance commuters. For those living closer to work, bicycling, bikeshare, and walking will be important additional options. Among our top recommendations is providing the dedicated bus lanes we’ve long needed.

“At the same time, based upon reports, the management and staff at WMATA owe the public a real turnaround in their performance in communications, maintenance, repair, operations, and above all safety. As a former Navy aviator, the revelations about the lack of a safety culture have been a particular concern for me.

“The extended repair times will hopefully give the staff the breathing room they need to make more effective and long-lasting repairs to the system, but this should also be a time for a complete culture change – breaking down the communications barriers between departments and between management and line workers, and infusing safety, customer service, and pride in every member of the team.”

Our specific recommendations include:

  • Much better and more effective customer communications by WMATA including, sufficient advance notice of shutdowns and planned alternatives, reliable travel time and schedule information for both rail and bus service at all times, and transparency about the repair work being done and the results.
  • Funding for the purchase of sufficient buses and hiring of more bus drivers to provide an essential transit alternative during extended shutdowns. But this will not be enough. We should take this opportunity to provide the dedicated bus lanes we have long needed.
  • Enhance and improve other alternative transportation services like expanding bikeshare, accelerating the installation of protected bikeways, and working with local jurisdictions to increase funding to transportation demand management programs including encouraging carpooling and telecommuting.
  • If stations are to be shut down for extended periods for rail repairs, then use the time restore the stations as well – cleaning, repairing damaged tiles, repairing fare gates, installing new lighting, etc. Take the time to restore and enhance the customer experience from the moment they enter the stations.

“Finally, we urge unity among elected officials in backing up the General Manager, and a shared commitment to providing the funding the system will need to complete a full mid-life restoration. Giving up on our Metrorail investment and all of the transportation and economic development benefits it has brought to our region is simply not an option.”

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at smartergrowth.net.


STATEMENT: Coalition for Smarter Growth applauds WMATA General Manager’s initiatives and urges a regional ‘team effort’

For Immediate Release
March 7, 2016

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
Cell: 703-599-6437

WASHINGTON, DC — Today at the National Press Club, and in an Op Ed in the Washington Post on Sunday, the new General Manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Paul Wiedefeld, laid out his comprehensive plan for fixing the transit agency. Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz issued the following statement in reaction to Wiedefeld’s plan.

“We applaud the General Manager’s comprehensive and detailed plan for fixing WMATA. The plan offers confidence that GM Wiedefeld is a leader focused on implementing the reforms we need to restore the system and the public’s confidence.

“But restoring Metro must be a team effort. All sectors must share a commitment to fixing the system. This means not just management and line staff, but the unions, the WMATA Board, business and civic sectors, riders, advocates, and above all, our elected officials. Our region cannot function without Metro, so our elected officials must make Metro their top priority transportation investment, backing up the GM with the funding the system needs.

“The region’s economy depends on Metro. For decades, it has been essential for the functioning of our largest employer, the federal government. Today, the marketplace is demonstrating huge demand to live and work near Metro and private developers are committing billions of dollars to building the walkable, urban, transit-oriented communities people want.  Elected officials have said that transit-oriented development (TOD) is the region’s future, but you can’t have TOD without the ‘T’. Fixing Metro must be our top priority if we are to remain economically competitive.”

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at smartergrowth.net.



Report: Metro to Name New General Manager

WASHINGTON — It’s been more than a year since Richard Sarles announced he would be retiring as Metro general manager in January of 2015. Now, the agency is finally on the cusp of naming a permanent successor.

NBC 4 broke the news that Metro’s board is extending an offer to Neal Cohen, the chief financial officer and executive vice president at the Dulles-based aerospace firm Orbital ATK. Cohen does not have public transit experience, but he did work for 16 years at Northwest Airlines and US Airways.

“I think it’s great that he has transportation experience in the airline industry, his finance background is going to be very helpful. But, we also want to make sure he can manage the operational side of the business, especially something as technologically complex as Metro,” says Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Metro has been under financial restrictions imposed by the Federal Transit Administration since last year. That’s when an audit exposed the questionable handling of billions of dollars in federal grants.

In July, Metro Board Chair Mortimer Downey released a letter announcing the field would be opened up for candidates with “financial management experience and those outside government and the transit industry.”

Cohen’s selection meets that criteria with the bonus of some transportation experience.

Emil Frankel is the interim CEO and President of the Eno Center for Transportation and says he’s not commenting specifically on Cohen until the selection is formally announced, but he points out that versatility is important for a general manager.

“I think the most important qualification is the strength of leadership and general management skills,” Frankel says. “WMATA has faced a lot of problems over the last few months and couple of years, and across a range of things: operational, safety, financial.”

Schwartz says setting up a good team is critical, especially for someone who may not have the operational experience in a public transit agency.

“Like any new commanding officer, if he has areas where he’s not as strong, hiring someone who is strong in that particular area would be helpful,” Schwartz says. “Transit operational managers, safety experts and others within his staff, amongst his deputies, would certainly be important.”

The Coalition for Smarter Growth along with ATU Local 689, the Action Committee for Transit and the Greater Washington Board of Trade sent a letter to local leaders earlier this month outlining their wishes for a new general manager.

The letter calls for the jurisdictions to “commit to backing up the new General Manager with the political support, organizational authority, and funding needed to do the job successfully.”

Frankel agrees that the next Metro general manager needs to have political backing to be successful.

“The first, and most important, and continuing task for the new general manager, the new CEO, is to build on the consensus that hopefully is represented by his or her selection for the job,” Frankel says. “To bring the jurisdictions together in shaping a program of renewal and restoration and good operations for WMATA.”

It’s the pattern established by one of the people Frankel cites as a hero for him in the transportation field: former New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority chair Richard Ravitch. Ravitch is often credited for turning around New York’s subway and bus system in the 1980’s, thanks in large part to his political ability.

And Schwartz says that ability to get everyone on the same page is one of the crucial needs if a new general manager hopes to turn Metro around.

“At the outset be a good listener,” Schwartz says. “There are a lot of stakeholders with Metro. Metro is a part of all of us in the Washington, D.C. region, and so I certainly hope that he will listen to all of those customers, unions, management, elected officials, other government staff and businesses.”

Read at WNEW >>

RELEASE: Business, Labor, Riders, Urbanists Join In Call to Fix Metro

WASHINGTON, DC –Six major organizations representing business, labor, transit riders, and urbanists joined today to outline principles that the region should follow to restore Metro to good health. In a letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser and Governors Larry Hogan and Terry McAuliffe, the groups said that the regional transit agency needs a strong General Manager backed with commitments of political support, organizational authority, and funding.

Why D.C.-Area Commuters Say They Are Dropping Metro

Call them the Metro quitters.

Months of consistently unreliable rush hour service have been emblematic of this rough year for the D.C. region’s transit system. An unknown but seemingly growing number of commuters are dumping Metro, giving up their seats — if seats are even available aboard packed railcars — for cars, bikes or walking.

WAMU 88.5 has received scores of emails and tweets from Metrorail riders who are quitting the system after the lousy summer that ended on a regrettably fitting note: on Sept. 21 a transformer fire at Metro’s power substation near Stadium-Armory will cause service disruptions for at least six months on the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines.

“They’ve really completely crushed my faith in them,” says NoMa resident Benjamin Rockey-Harris, 33, one of several ex-subway users interviewed by WAMU 88.5. “I’m much happier walking. It’s working out for me, unlike Metro.”

Ridership down

Weekday rail ridership is down about 6 percent since its peak in 2008, although the trip figures rebounded a bit last year. Among the factors Metro leaders are quick to point to, the recession, rise of teleworking, loss of the federal pre-tax transit benefit, and growth of alternatives like Uber and Capital Bikeshare usually top the list.

But what about riders who have quit the system because the service stinks? Admittedly, that figure is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately quantify.

“I don’t know that we can determine exact percentages and such, but we do know unreliability does have an impact on our customers,” says Jack Requa, the transit authority’s interim general manager since January. “There’s been a decline in ridership. We are certainly trying to determine the reasons for that and anything we can do to offset that.”

Preliminary figures show ridership dipped 7 percent in August from the same month in 2014 — a significant year-over-year loss. And with commuters facing slowdowns and delays on the three lines through Stadium-Armory well into next spring, more riders are expected to quit Metro.

“I’m going to walk”

It’s 8 a.m. on a Monday morning in Washington’s NoMa neighborhood. Rockey-Harris, an IT professional in downtown D.C., stands at the corner of 2nd and L Streets Northeast and makes an easy decision. Instead of turning right to go to the nearby by Red Line station, he continues to hoof it west on L.

“If it worked perfectly it would be 20-minute ride to work, but I’d rather walk 45 [minutes] than deal with the chaos, honestly,” he says.

The chaos he describes will sound familiar to just about anyone who has tried to board a rush hour train lately.

“Metro means that I have no reliability of getting to work on time. I’m going to pay a rush hour fee for a six- or eight-minute wait for a Red Line train, and then possibly not even get on the next train because they’re all six-car trains and they’ll be full,” Rockey-Harris says.

There was no single incident that drove him away from public transportation. Instead it was weeks and weeks of delays, packed trains, and late arrivals to work that convinced him once and for all to give up on Metro. Others share his story.

“I showed up to work 45 minutes late one time, and that was the final straw,” says Matthew Benjamin, 36, a federal worker who lives in Falls Church. He dumped the Orange Line and now rides his bike all the way into his office near Union Station.

“It was the inconsistent times that the trains were running. You couldn’t count on the same train to be there the same time each morning. That made my commute vary back and forth by 30 to 45 minutes at a time. And that wasn’t acceptable,” Benjamin says.

Crumbling confidence

Whatever the reasons for the long decline in trips, Metro can ill afford to lose any customers. The transit authority is projecting budget deficits for years to come as costs continue to rise against stagnant ridership and revenue forecasts. But public confidence — shaken by multiple rush hour meltdowns and major federal safety investigations — in Metro is crumbling.

“I’d rather take the subway but I can’t rely upon it,” says Becky Ogle, a federal worker and disability rights advocate, who drives from Bethesda into Washington every morning. Because she is in a wheelchair, she is concerned not only with train malfunctions and track problems, but broken elevators, too.

“I’m supposed to be at work at the same time my colleagues are, my able-bodied colleagues. But if I get to my station and the elevator’s not working, then usually it takes about an hour to recoup,” Ogle says. “I’ll have to go to another destination with an elevator working and back track on my own through my own rolling, or have Metro pick me up, which takes forever.”

Metro’s lackluster ridership was pinned on several factors, including slower-than-expected growth in Silver Line usage over the second half of 2014, in a recent budget analysis released by transit authority management.

“The general trend over the past three years of lower average weekday rail ridership has continued, with fewer days reaching a ridership total of 750,000 or more, and more days falling below 700,000,” the report said.

When asked what it would take to return to Metro, riders gave a simple answer: better service.

“We have one of the best subway systems in the country. I would just like to see it be on the upswing instead of the downswing,” says Jessica McBroom, a State Department employee who rides her bike to work.

McBroom, a D.C. resident, bikes six miles to visit family in Maryland on weekends instead of waiting upwards of 24 minutes for a train if there is track work.

“Where are we getting with all of this weekend track work?” she says. Metro is more than four years into a six-year, $5 billion rebuilding program.

Some have quit Metro in disgust. Others did so reluctantly.

“I have very fond memories of Metro. My first experiences in D.C. were my dad taking me to RFK to Redskins games as a kid. We took Metro every time and we never had a problem,” says Bryan Davis Keith, a federal employee who now resides in Winchester, Virginia.

“We never had issues with it breaking down or not knowing what was going on…now you are lucky if something doesn’t happen on your commute,” he says.

Instead of driving to the Orange Line station in Vienna, Keith drives all 100 miles into D.C. every morning, taking his chances with I-66 instead of the train.

Rider testimonials

We heard from many other Metro riders with strong feelings driving their decision to abandon it for their commute. Here are some select testimonials.

Staci Pittman

“For me, it was in 2014 when WMATA took a turn for the worse. I was constantly late for work and because I had to leave at a certain time to make my return trip, my days were usually short of 8 hours. On the return trip, a ride that usually takes 20-25 minutes from Bethesda to Union Station could actually take up to 45 minutes which made me miss my MARC connection and often times leaving me stranded once I made it to Odenton because I missed the last neighborhood bus. The situation seemed to worsen in the summertime and there was always single tracking, crowded platforms, burning rail and water issues. A simple trip from Bethesda to Friendship Heights to get an allergy shot during lunchtime often took an hour and a half roundtrip, including waiting times. Everything wore me down as WMATA delays became the rule and not the exception and having one day out of two weeks being on time seemed like a bonus. As much as I didn’t want to, I broke down a year ago.”

Danny Goldman

“I am a Rockville native. I grew up taking the Red Line and had pretty clear memories of using it as a go-to mode of transport into the city. When I came back from overseas a year ago to start grad school downtown, one of the reasons I was excited was Metro. I thought I wouldn’t need a car, it was convenient, and cost effective. I was wrong.

The Red Line has turned into a disaster, costs have skyrocketed, the service and facilities have deteriorated to the point of being a national embarrassment and safety hazard.”

Matthew Becker

“I haven’t quit completely because it’s still more cost-effective, but ever since I started having to take the Red Line to my current job in Bethesda, I’ve found myself using my own car, Lyft, and trying to take the bus further so as to avoid delays on the train. I try to monitor Twitter in the morning and listen to the radio to be aware of delays on the Metro but unfortunately I still have to rely on the train sometimes. As soon as I can move to a work location where I can rely only on the bus, the bike share, or my own two feet, I don’t plan to take the train ever again.”

Leigh Mihlrad

“I used to take an express bus to the Pentagon each day, and then take the Blue Line to Farragut West. I got so tired of the delays, and frequent inability to get on the train, due to how crowded it was, that I now drive to my department’s Arlington Headquarters and then take our free shuttle downtown. It takes slightly less time, even with some traffic on 395.”

Benita Robertson

“When I first moved here I was ecstatic about the availability of public transit and planned to rely on it 100 percent.”

“My enthusiasm declined with the increase of incidents and delays. I am a patient person so I can deal with delays, but what I can’t deal with is fearing for my safety. The final straw was the reduced train speed between Pentagon and L’Enfant plaza in response to much-needed track repairs.”

“Each day as we slowly creep over the bridge I nervously stared down at the water. There have been so many derailments, brake malfunctions and door issues. I am worried that there is a real problem with the tracks and that a major incident is just waiting to happen. I dislike driving. Traffic stresses me out and I’m terrible at parallel parking, but just yesterday I started researching monthly parking in D.C. so I can drive and park during the week. It’s a real shame, especially since I am a self-identified ‘terrible driver’ and strongly feel I shouldn’t be driving more than absolutely required. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take if I can’t rely on metro to be concerned about my safety.”

Maria Khan

“I quit taking the train this past summer after three years of consistently using it as my primary means of getting downtown from Vienna. I got stuck in the tunnel twice for 40+ minutes each time and have since developed a bad case of claustrophobia. I now cannot ride the train without getting an inevitable panic attack about whether I will be able to get off it once I get on due to all the stops and holds it does in the tunnels. The persistent holds for 40+ minutes in tunnels coupled with reports of smoke and fires, it just seemed like too much of a dangerous situation to put myself. I now take I-66 to work and always pass by an Orange Line train stuck on the tracks for no apparent reason and feel bad for the commuters stuffed inside it.”

Jessica Giguere

“I’m actually going to move into the city so I can walk/bike rather than Metro. Money is tight but I’d rather pay more on rent and sacrifice space than what I pay now in Metro fares and time. I spend at least 10 hours a week commuting from the Vienna Metro station to McPherson Square.”

Ryan Jesien

“I was a WMATA commuter from 2005 to 2013. I wouldn’t get on it today if I were paid to. I rode from Braddock Road to Silver Spring for a time period before dropping their horrible service in favor of biking or driving to work.”

“WMATA is corrupt, expensively priced, and unsafe. I would rather put my skull in a vice than ride their train. A dead horse is a more reliable form of transportation.”

Chris Dattaro

“This is the second time I’ve given up on Metro, and I’m never going back. I live in Old Town and was commuting to Rosslyn for a past job but now commute to Georgetown for a new job. Braddock to Rosslyn is 6 stops; Braddock to Foggy Bottom is 7 and all on the BL. Should be easy enough, right?”

“Between the inconsistent schedules and repeated delays it would consistently take over an hour door-to-door. The BL runs trains every 13-15 minutes during Rush Hour which is pretty mind boggling. It also cost me $7 per day roundtrip to take the Metro. If you multiple that out by the 23 work days in September, that costs me $161. So to sum it up:

Metro: $155-161 per month, 60-80 minute commute one way, no control over delays, overcrowded trains due to the infrequency at peak hours. Car: $135 + gas per month, 25-30 minute commute, flexible schedule. I also ride my bike a few times per week when it’s nice outside. The Metro is just garbage. I’ll use it as infrequently as possible and from here on out, mostly just for Caps games.”

Read on WAMU >>

Prince George’s hospital plan approved by county, awaits key state clearance

It could be at least four years before a proposed regional hospital and medical campus opens at Largo Town Center, but the central Prince George’s community is already bracing for a development that could boost health-care options as well as the overall local economy.

Officials hope it lives up to their vision of creating a more urban, pedestrian-friendly community.

The $650 million, 231-bed hospital, which is under state and county review, promises to deliver a more urban street grid with smaller blocks to encourage foot and bicycle travel around what is primarily a car-oriented Metro station just outside the Capital Beltway.

Residents and transit advocates say the project, which has a tentative 2019 opening, can’t come soon enough to an area known for its big boulevards, giant parking lots and bus stops on sidewalk-free roads. They say the proposal offers the type of transit-oriented development that they have long sought.

“We have fought this battle for more years than I care to think about. This plan brings us far closer to where we need to be,” Chuck Renninger, president of the Largo Civic Association, told county officials discussing the project last month. “We need to get phase one up and operational as quickly as possible so that phase two and three can come quick enough.”

Recently, the project received the county planning commission’s blessing to move toward construction, an important step in the county’s land-use approval process. The realization of the project, however, is still contingent on a crucial state review that has already dragged on for a year longer than the county had hoped.

Maryland’s health-care commission must sign off on a “certificate of need,” which includes design plans and financial projections. After going back and forth with the applicant for a year, the commission finally docketed the case in April and the panel is weighing the needs, benefits and competition created by building the hospital. As part of the review, the commission is considering the concerns of two hospitals protesting the project’s scale.

A step to sway statistics
For the county, however, building the medical facility is the first step in remedying pressing health-care disparities for its residents, who have long complained about having to travel outside the county for care because of the limited options.

The new facility, which would be operated by the University of Maryland Medical System, would help tackle statistics that show Prince George’s residents have higher rates of chronic diseases — including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma and cancer — than people in neighboring counties. Studies also suggest that the county’s mortality rate is higher than that of Montgomery and Howard counties.

The new medical campus would replace the 100-bed Prince George’s Hospital Center in
Cheverly, which has struggled financially and requires frequent subsidies from the state and county. It would have a 10-story building at the center, housing an ambulatory care center, a cancer center, a women-and-children’s center and a resident program.

The project “represents turning a page on a chapter that has been, in a lot of ways, a drag on the county,” Brad Frome, an economic development aide to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), told the planning commission last month, citing the conditions of the existing hospital. “This is really a foundation stone for the creation of a new health-care system that we look to have in the county.”

Later phases would bring more medical offices, a nursing home, hotels and more housing around it, officials say, touting the project as a driver for economic development promising to revive the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, which has struggled for years to fill and keep storefronts open.

The hospital project could spur $3 billion in economic activity for Prince George’s, according to a recent report that suggests it could help build a mixed-use development around the Largo Town Center Metro station that includes about 3 million square feet of commercial space, nearly 1 million square feet of retail, 653 hotel rooms, a 150-bed nursing home and more than 4,000 residential units.

At build-out, that means $150 million in state and local tax revenue, 16,000 new jobs and 4,340 households with an estimated $312.5 million in income, according to the report.

Approval hurdles
The project is expected to move through the county’s approval process without delay by early fall, which leaves state approval as the main hurdle between now and its projected 2019 opening.

The state commission docketed the case in April. A commissioner is expected to review it soon and could make a recommendation by the end of the year.

As part of its review, the commission is considering comments from Doctors Community Hospital and Anne Arundel Medical Center. Both oppose the size of the project, citing its potential impact on their operations.

Doctors Community, a 218-bed facility in Lanham, about six miles from the proposed medical center, estimates that it would lose nearly 400 admissions annually. Fewer admissions could lead to a shortfall of more than $1 million annually, the hospital said.

“A new hospital is needed, but the right hospital, not this proposal,” Doctors Community attorneys Peter P. Parvis and Jennifer J. Coyne said in a May 4 letter to the state panel. The Prince George’s Regional Medical Center “did not meet its burden of proving that the need for a hospital this large and this expensive exists, or that the hospital is financially feasible.”

Anne Arundel Medical Center, the third-busiest hospital in Maryland with 384 beds and an emergency heart-attack-response center about 22 miles east of the Largo site, cites the county’s “difficulty attracting and retaining a strong medical community of physicians.” The center estimates the project will result in
420 fewer discharges and questions the proposed cardiac surgery services at the new facility.

Thomas Himler, budget director for Prince George’s, said the new facility hopes to attract county residents who seek medical care elsewhere in Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia. Despite the objections of the two competing hospitals, he said, the county expects approval by the end of the year.

The medical center is tied to about 26 acres immediately east of the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, adjacent to the Largo Town Center Metro station and just off the Capital Beltway, north of Central Avenue. It would be funded with $450 million in bond financing, including about
$200 million each from the state and the county.

Transit potential
At the center of all that growth is the Metro station, which opened in 2004 as the Blue Line’s eastern-most terminal. The new Silver Line also ends there. Although the station now ranks in the bottom half in the system in terms of performance and has nearly 5,000 daily passenger boardings, it has the capacity to handle significant ridership growth, officials say.

Largo has the potential to be an example of successful transit-oriented development in a county that has 15 vastly underdeveloped Metro stations, planners and transit officials say. The community could develop into a downtownlike area similar to Silver Spring, with a large medical community anchoring diverse business and housing options. The housing stock is already growing, with at least one multifamily complex under construction across the street from the hospital site.

Having the hospital less than a quarter-mile from the Metro platform would make it an attractive choice for workers and patients, officials say.

Margaret Bowles, 75, a retired teacher who lives about three miles from the hospital site, said she goes to Holy Cross Hospital in Montgomery County for specialty care and has friends who travel to the District for health care.

“People go down to George Washington [University Medical Center] and they never take their car. They hop on the Metro and go downtown because the Metro stop is right there. It is perfect,” she said. “Before this project, we had not had the vision that we probably should have for development around the Metro station.”

The success, she said, hinges on building it right, with pedestrians, cyclists and motorists in mind.

The county-approved plan calls for sidewalks along both sides of the Boulevard, Arena Drive and Lottsford Road. Pedestrian plazas, seating areas and bicycle pathways also are part of the design. County planners said the streets will be narrow to foster a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Advocates for transit-oriented development, including Metro and the nonprofit Coalition for Smarter Growth, have pushed for wide, well-lit pathways connecting the station to the hospital and the surrounding commercial spaces to make it as easy as possible for workers and patients to take transit.

“Having a very large employment center at the station will absolutely change that ridership at Largo,” said Stan Wall, Metro’s director of real estate and planning, noting that the project also could benefit Metro’s plans to eventually develop 12 acres of land it owns at the site.

The medical center alone could generate 650 new daily entries at the Metro station, according to the transit agency’s office of planning. That would mean $750,000 in new revenue for the transit agency. But even more riders and revenue would stem from the development that would follow the hospital construction, Wall said.

Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, agrees that keeping in mind the pedestrian and bike traffic will ensure good circulation between the hospital’s front door, Metro and the shops at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre.

“We want to make sure it’s done to the full benefit,” she said.

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision is in on the Purple Line

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday the Purple Line will advance, but the two local counties that stand to benefit from the light rail line will be asked to shoulder a much larger burden.

The alignment of the 16-mile Purple Line will not change, nor will the number of stations. But Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, Hogan said, will have to take on a greater percentage of the estimated $2.5 billion-plus price tag. The federal government, he said, must come through with its anticipated $900 million infusion. And tweaks to the project, such as extending the headway between trains from 6 to 7.5 minutes, will further drive down the cost.

Maryland officials say those changes, if accepted, will drive down the state’s investment from more than $700 million to less than $300 million.

“I look forward to further discussions with the Governor over ever

y 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,” Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said in a statement. “Enabling people to move around the Washington D.C. Metro area is extremely important to our overall quality of life. It is important for us to continue to invest in new businesses that create jobs and grow our tax base. Montgomery County benefits. Prince George’s County benefits. And, the State of Maryland really benefits.”

In the same vein, Baker thanked Hogan for recognizing the “positive impact this project could have on the region and the State of Maryland,” while simultaneously not committing to the new terms.

“Prince George’s County has already committed an extraordinary amount for local governments to contribute toward a state project,” Baker said in a statement. “I will thoroughly review this proposal along with my budget, finance, economic development and transportation advisors to assess what this means for Prince George’s County. In addition, we will work in concert with Montgomery County to analyze whether this new proposal maintains the spirit of the initial plan for the Purple Line and will lead to the outcomes and benefits we have been talking about for years.”

Long a Purple Line skeptic given the anticipated cost, Hogan’s decision to build what supporters deem a critical economic development and smart growth initiative came as something of a surprise, as the governor kicked off his press conference with a new commitment to invest $2 billion roads and bridges — deferred maintenance and new construction.

The list includes $200 million for a new I-495/I-95 interchange at Greenbelt — a project that’s needed to bring the FBI headquarters there — as well as $100 million for congestion reduction efforts on Interstate 270 and $190 million to widen Route 404 on the Eastern Shore from two to four lanes.

“We’re going to touch the daily lives of citizens across our state,” Hogan said.

Maryland must invest in projects that will help the greatest number of people, the governor said, adding he is not opposed to public transportation, only “wasteful boondoggles.” Driving the Purple Line’s cost down was mandatory, he said, but the project itself will be an “economic driver for Maryland.”

“I’ve always said this decision was never about whether public transportation is worthwhile, but about whether it is affordable and makes economic sense,” he said.

Running between Bethesda and New Carrollton, the preferred east-west Purple Line alignment includes 21 stations with stops in Silver Spring, Takoma/Langley Park and College Park. It will serve an estimated 69,000 daily riders by 2040, create thousands of construction jobs and provide easier access and connections between various Metro’s Green and Red lines, MARC and Amtrak.

“I welcome Governor @LarryHogan’s decision to proceed with the #PurpleLine. It is a needed project to improve mobility & the economy,” Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal tweeted shortly after the announcement.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has not yet publicly responded to the governor’s announcement, though he is expected to later Thursday. Neither county executive was in Annapolis for the governor’s press conference. And while both have shown unwavering support for the Purple Line, their respective counties are not swimming in extra revenue to throw its way.

Proponents of the transit line say they are concerned about changes to it, including the headway reduction and the decision to not build a second staging area for light rail cars. Still, said the Silver Spring-based Action Committee for Transit, Hogan’s choice is “good news for Marylanders who want more jobs, more travel options and better communities.”

“There is no better transportation and economic development investment for the state of Maryland,” added Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a statement. “This project will knit together job centers, expand access to high quality transit to new places, and provide much needed east-west connections in the dense inner suburbs of some of the most important economic parts of the state.”

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Testimony on partial offsite Inclusionary Zoning and affordable housing benefit in the Highline development project

We are enthusiastic about this project because it takes full advantage of the site’s proximity to Metro and bus lines, employment, services and burgeoning new commercial districts. I will spend the rest of my time discussing our qualified support for the proposed partial off-site compliance for Inclusionary Zoning regulations (IZ), and an affordable housing proffer.