Image by Adam Fagen licensed under Creative Commons.

Last week, the Montgomery County Council shifted transportation funding from a road-widening project to more sustainable transit improvements. In their six-year capital improvements projects (CIP) budget, the Council delayed funding construction for the long-planned Montrose Parkway East by one year. They agreed to instead invest in planning studies for a number of bicycle/pedestrian and transit-oriented projects.

Recognizing the need to explore alternative investments in transportation spending is significant progress, but this does not mean the Montrose Parkway East project is gone. The project is still fully on the books, and in the future the council could still approve funding to construct it.

Image by Famartin licensed under Creative Commons.

Diverting money from the parkway opened up funds for a lot of other improvements

Earlier this month, county councilmembers Hans Riemer, Roger Berliner and Tom Hucker proposed delaying construction of Montrose East Parkway for three years, from 2021 to 2024. During the current six-year budget cycle the county would only fund land acquisition for Montrose Parkway East instead of the whole project — that means spending roughly only $30 million of the $124 million total.

With the remaining funds, a preliminary list (below) of alternative design and build options were proposed, along with a new road project upcounty between Germantown and Clarksburg. The final agreement only included those bolded.

Metro:

  • $7 million to plan, design and begin to implement a new White Flint Metro station northern entrance at the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Boulevard
  • $20.2 million to develop a new entrance to the Forest Glen Metro station at the northeast corner of the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Forest Glen Road

Bus:

  • $7 million in design funding for bus rapid transit on Veirs Mill Road between the Rockville and Wheaton Metro stations
  • $7 million for planning of a bus rapid transit route on New Hampshire Avenue between the Colesville Road Park and Ride and Eastern Avenue

Ped/bike:

  • $2.8 million to accelerate bicycle infrastructure projects in the Wheaton, Veirs Mill, Takoma-Langley and Pine Branch areas
  • $1 million for bike lanes between Nebel Street and the White Flint Metro station
  • $300,000 to study pedestrian safety issues along Dale Drive between Colesville Road and Columbia Boulevard
  • $12 million to begin the final design and right-of-way acquisition for a new four-mile hiker and biker path along the east side of Falls Road from River Road to Dunster Road in the Potomac area
  • $12.5 million to construct a 3.5-mile cycling and walking path called the Life Sciences Loop Trail in the Gaithersburg area
  • $9 million to complete a bikeway on MacArthur Boulevard from Oberlin Avenue to DC

Roads:

  • $4.5 million for planning and land acquisition for an access road in Burtonsville

The Burtonsville Access Road is meant to complement a state road project in the area, but will do less to improve walkability without the state embracing a Main Street design rather than their current highway approach.

White Flint Metro station. Image by thisisbossi licensed under Creative Commons.

Some proposed investments in bicycle infrastructure were deleted from the plan, especially in areas upcounty and near the Potomac. The budget also diverted funding for improvements to Gohsen Road in Gaithersburg to the projects. Here are other projects that received funding:

  • Design and initial construction of Forest Glen Metro station access improvements
  • Design of bus rapid transit on Veirs Mill Road
  • Planning a new bus rapid transit system for New Hampshire Avenue
  • Begin making progress on adding a new entrance at the White Flint Metro station
  • Buying land and beginning the designing of the Burtonsville Access Road
  • Making investments on new infrastructure in the bicycle and pedestrian priority areas
  • Buying land and conducting design work for the first phase of extending Observation Drive in the Clarksburg area
  • Planning for Dale Drive safety improvements in Silver Spring

This is progress, but the county could do better

The compromise lays the foundation for future decision making for the next council — that's worth applauding. Unfortunately, planning studies often require up to six years, and the majority of these diverted funds would not build actual safety improvements.

For example, accelerating the upcounty Observatory Drive will create a parallel road system to I-270. This will send long-distance commuters through neighborhoods where the county has already delayed prioritizing local school connections and neighborhood circulation.

Burtonsville at sunset. Image by thisisbossi used with permission.

That money could be better spent on other priorities. The county is currently working through approval of an ambitious Bike Master Plan that will require substantial funding over 25 years. This budget only gives minor incremental investment to the first six years of funding for this plan, and does not align with accomplishing the master plan goals.

While Montgomery County is shifting its transportation investments to support its evolution, tradeoffs will be required. Land use and transit investments that further encourage residents to commute within the county (today as high as 40-60 percent in many areas) will pay dividends in quality of life for all of its residents.

There are few options left for new roads. County leaders are now faced with choosing between expensive and disruptive road expansions or providing additional options for not only commuting but for everyday trips. New and wider roads would seldom enhance the quality of life of nearby residents, and would counter many of the aims of the county’s Vision Zero commitment.

With this one-year delay for Montrose Parkway East, the next County Executive and council will have more information to inform its future choices. With pivotal elections across the ballot this year, this fall voters will have more control over the future of transportation developments as the results of these studies.

Let the current members of the council know you support shifting transportation priorities to provide more and better transit options.

 

Click to email county officials