The new Bethesda Metro entrance would be an elevator bank that connects with the southern end of the platform.  Photo by Gautam Rishi on flickr.

In last year’s county budget, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett proposed delaying funding for a new entrance to the Bethesda Metro station.  The County Council restored funding in last year’s final budget, but the Leggett administration resubmitted a similar misguided proposal for this fiscal year.

The Bethesda Metro station was originally designed to accommodate a southern entrance. A bank of high-speed elevators would transport passengers to street level, like in Friendship Heights. When built, the Purple Line will also use the new elevators as both an entrance to its station and as a convenient direct transfer to and from the Red Line.

The county has always planned to finance this new entrance on its own, because it will benefit Red Line riders on the day it opens, Purple Line or no. 

In addition to offering an alternative when the existing escalators are out of service, it will bring the station up to modern safety standards by providing a second entrance for emergency personnel and a second evacuation route in the event of an emergency.

Sadly, Maryland does not yet have the funds lined up for its portion of the Purple Line costs, and Leggett is citing potential Purple Line delays as a reason to postpone the Metro entrance as well. From the Bethesda Patch:

“Due to the current lack of state construction funding for these projects, this reduction is not likely to cause a delay in the project,” read the county release announcing the CIP amendments.

This statement is very puzzling because County Executive Leggett has been an excellent advocate for increasing transportation revenue at the state level, teaming with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, both counties’ state delegations, and other counties’ delegations. 

Governor O’Malley has made it clear that a significant piece of the increased transportation revenues would go towards constructing the Purple Line.  One would think that the Leggett Administration would be more publicly optimistic about future state revenues, based on its own hard work.

Further, the Maryland MTA has already stated that construction on the entrance would have to begin by 2016 in order to meet a projected 2020 start of operations for the Purple Line. Last year’s budget kept the project on schedule to break ground by 2016.  Any delay would put the project too far behind schedule to be open when the Purple Line begins operation, if the Purple Line gets the funding it needs.

This proposal continues the pattern with this administration of trying to defund smart growth-oriented projects while proposing lavish spending on sprawl-oriented road projects.

When the County Council restored the Metro entrance funding during the 2012 budgeting process, it deferred some wasteful new road projects the Leggett administration has proposed. Those include building Montrose Parkway East, and widening Snouffer School Road and Goshen Road in Gaithersburg.  It’s unclear if the Gaithersburg area road widenings are linked to the M-83 “Zombie Road” proposal that MCDOT continues to study.

The County Executive’s office now wants to defer the Metro funding, though for less time than in last year’s proposal, and restore many of these same road projects.

Just like last year, the County Council can rein in the county Department of Transportation’s least considered road-widening impulses.  It’s up to us to contact them and let them know that the electorate supports smart growth and economic development projects, such as the new Bethesda Metro entrance.

Cavan Wilk became interested in the physical layout and economic systems of modern human settlements while working on his Master’s in Financial Economics. His writing often focuses on the interactions between a place’s form, its economic systems, and the experiences of those who live in them.  He lives in downtown Silver Spring.