Gov. Wes Moore (D) and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) visited North Bethesda on Friday afternoon to talk with county officials, members of the Maryland General Assembly and other local representatives about how to support plans for the University of Maryland – Institute for Health Computing, which Moore called a step in the right direction for investing in “One Maryland.”
In November, Montgomery County, state and federal officials joined partners from University of Maryland’s medical system in North Bethesda to sign an agreement that established a health computing center in North Bethesda. The $40 million center will be built near the North Bethesda Metro station.
According to the memorandum of understanding, the county is providing $15 million in fiscal year 2023 — and $5 million in each of the following years, through fiscal year 2028. The agreement also states that $3 million will be needed from the federal government for fiscal year 2023. Fiscal years run from July 1 to June 30.
“[Maryland is] falling behind. And we’re falling behind because we’re not investing. This is a unique opportunity to show that we can be bold, we can be innovative, we can invest and we can be flexible,” Moore said at a press conference at 909 Rose Avenue. “With this investment, you’re creating pathways and pipelines.”
Moore said the project is important because it creates jobs for established scientists and also provides a pathway for students to thrive and eventually enter the field of health computing.
County and University of Maryland officials have said the center will help create a space for research and studies across computing, outside of the traditional wet lab spaces seen in other parts of the county and region. It also will feature artificial intelligence and related technologies, officials said.
The center will focus on health computing, using virtual and augmented reality, and connecting with local federal health institutions to “catalyze a clinical data science ecosystem at North Bethesda that draws” investigators from the Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health, University of Maryland Baltimore and University of Maryland College Park faculty, medical bioinformatic educational programs and students, and industry partners and allows the “expansion of computational ‘dry’ laboratories, virtual meeting rooms and classrooms,” according to the agreement.
“By creating this ecosystem, where we bring talent from around the country, where we bring students from around the world, we are really talking about not only the future of life sciences, but we’re talking about the future of North Bethesda and of Montgomery County, where people can safely walk to work, where they have homes that are affordable and where they can travel safely on the streets and on public transportation,” County Council President Evan Glass said.
“That is the nexus of this project. That is why it is so important.”
The project is being conducted in partnership with Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, with plans to redevelop the Metro property and add a new north entrance to the station. At the request of the county, WMATA is also studying the potential of accommodating a high-rise building over the new entrance.
In addition to building the health computing center, Montgomery County officials are making a bid to become the home for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), a new federal agency focused on biomedical research. During Friday’s press conference, Moore reiterated his goal to bring the FBI headquarters to Maryland. The FBI is currently searching for a new home to replace its Washington, D.C., headquarters.
To make their cases, state and county officials will need to demonstrate that Maryland and the county have the transportation infrastructure to accommodate these agencies, officials have said.
When asked how the governor’s office plans to convince federal officials that the transportation infrastructure can be improved, Miller said the appointment of former WMATA General Secretary Paul Wiedefeld as secretary of transportation is “part of the strategy.” She said the Moore administration is “serious” about investing in public transit.
“Public transit is not just an urban issue or suburban issue. It’s a rural issue, so it touches every bit of Marylanders … . When [Moore] and I met with constituents [on the campaign trail], that was always one of the top two issues. People would bring up public transportation, how can we make it more reliable, more dependable, and that is something we’re going to focus on,” said Miller, who worked for the county Department of Transportation for 25 years and is a former state delegate.
County Executive Marc Elrich said he acknowledges the responsibility of creating a transit system people want to use.
“You don’t make a product in a factory unless you build the factory, unless you put the machines in. So you can’t get ridership unless you give people something to ride. That’s our goal — to build the transportation system that people will choose to use and that we can build. I believe we can do it right and we can do it in an affordable way,” Elrich said.
Council Member Kate Stewart (D-District 4), who represents the district that includes North Bethesda, also attended the meeting. She told MoCo360 that North Bethesda is the right place to house both the new health computing institute and ARPA-H because of existing biomedical agencies and the access to infrastructure.
“We have to do more when it comes to infrastructure, but we all have a great deal already here. So that’s why [North Bethesda] makes the perfect space, not just for this research institute, but also ARPA-H. This is the perfect location for both because we have all the partners who are already building a good foundation and working together,” Stewart said.
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