State senators, delegates, Montgomery County officials and municipal leaders gathered at Montgomery County Council chambers Wednesday night for over three hours to hear from state transportation officials and weigh in on a $21.2 billion transportation plan that has gaps.
The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Consolidated Transportation Program is a $21.2 billion, six-year capital budget investment in the state’s transportation network. The more than 500-page draft plan for 2024-2029 is currently being compiled by MDOT.
As part of the process, MDOT and other state transportation officials are traveling to all of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City to gather input from elected officials and county leaders on what the plan should include.
The department will take the feedback they get on the tour to finalize the plan this fall, and then submit it to the General Assembly in January for consideration during the legislative session.
Here are some of the key takeaways from Wednesday’s meeting:
There’s a $2 billion hole in the $21.2 billion plan, according to transportation secretary Paul Wiedefeld.
Del. Marc Korman (D-Dist. 16) called out the imbalance in funding when it came to I-495 and I-270 bus service and improvement plans, and pointed out a lack of trust from the community.
“It’s out of balance and you’re not even funding the priorities the governor has laid out,” Korman said. “You need to actually work out how that will be funded on a sustainable basis given the funding challenges you all face. You inherited a lack of trust from the community and we’re looking for that trust to be restored.”
Wiedefeld said the department chose not to cut projects from the plan yet until they could hear from officials throughout the state.
“The reality is we could have cut the projects and presented a program with those cuts. We did take a different approach because I think there’s a much broader discussion … to be had about how we’re going to deal with this issue,” Wiedefeld said.
WMATA is facing a $750 million fiscal cliff in fiscal 2025.
According to Drew Morrison, acting director of the Washington Area Transit Office for MDOT, WMATA has laid out options to its board of directors on how to handle this, and MDOT is working to engage with stakeholders on how to move forward.
MDOT is funding WMATA improvement projects at the North Bethesda, Shady Grove Silver Spring, Twinbrook and Wheaton Metro stations.
“These projects support the Moore-Miller administration’s goal of making transit a catalyst to lift neighborhoods, boost the economy, create jobs and connect residents with opportunity,” Morrison said.
Out of 366 Vision Zero-related pedestrian and bicyclist safety projects completed by the State Highway Administration in the past year, 168 were in Montgomery County, according to SHA administrator Will Pines.
Vision Zero is a plan to eliminate all traffic-related deaths. He said these included ADA compliant ramps, signals that prioritize pedestrian crossings, no turn on red regulatory improvements, red light cameras, new traffic signals and crosswalk upgrades.
Officials who represent the upcounty areas where there are no Metro stations or WMATA buses called for an investment in public transit that reaches the top of the county.
“We have made a very attractive area for people who want to live here. They want to go to school here. They want to have jobs here. But they find that we’re not keeping up with the transportation infrastructure,” said Gaithersburg City Councilmember Neil Harris.
Montgomery County Councilmembers voiced frustration with the progress of two key projects, listed as highest priorities by the county.
The completion of the Georgia Avenue project in Montgomery Hills will likely be delayed by a year, and the Clopper Road project is still not funded for construction.
“We encourage the State Highway Administration to do everything you can to put this long-awaited project on the schedule to be completed by FY 2030,” Council Vice President Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1) said of the Georgia Avenue project.
District 15 officials pleaded for state officials to pull their weight in reopening White’s Ferry, which transported commuters across the Potomac River between Poolesville in Montgomery County and Leesburg in Loudoun County, Virginia.
It’s been closed since December 2020 due to a legal dispute between then-ferry owner Herb Brown and Rockland Farm.
“We have to step forward and figure out a way to move forward because it has a huge, tremendous impact, not just in terms of economic impact, but in terms of community morale, and it’s a symbol of government dysfunction, when there’s absolutely nothing we can do and just kind of throw in the towel,” Del. Lily Qi (D-Dist. 15).
Some officials voiced concern that Maryland isn’t doing enough to invest in transportation in order to keep up economically with northern Virginia.
“We need the legislature to be a partner in providing us with the flexibility to raise some of the revenues to do some of the same policies that Virginia has implemented, in order for us to do the infrastructure improvements that are necessary for us to provide opportunities for our residents or visitors in our businesses,” county chief administrative officer Rich Madaleno said.
Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Dist. 20) asked MDOT to be smart and strategic about Purple Line construction moving forward.
She cautioned against another public-private partnership, citing “the absolute disaster” of previous Purple Line decisions. She also asked the state to be mindful of how construction is impacting residents and businesses.
“I’ve been a huge supporter of the Purple Line … it’s crucial … but we also need to recognize that the communities that the Purple Line goes through are paying the sacrifices for a benefit to the entire region. And because it’s been so long, they continue to pay those sacrifices,” Charkoudian said. “Those sacrifices are both in terms of business impacts and also in terms of pedestrian safety and minimizing pedestrian access to schools and businesses. It has been really disheartening how hard it has been to make basic pedestrian safety improvements.”