Against the urging of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), the County Council wants to allocate more than $100 million for a popular downcounty trail and a new entrance to the Bethesda Metro station, and scale back or delay funding for several road projects upcounty.
The council weighed in on transportation projects that should be included in the county’s capital spending plan for fiscal years 2013 to 2018 in a March 13 straw vote. The spending plan is slated to be finalized in May.
But in a March 7 letter to Transportation Committee Chairman and Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1), Leggett wrote that earmarking funds for the two downcounty projects “would devastate many critical transportation projects necessary to address very real public safety issues, relieve congestion and provide sorely needed road maintenance throughout the county.”
Leggett's proposed capital spending plan didn't include funds for the new Bethesda Metro entrance or the trail.
Transit advocates have pushed for funds for both projects, both of which are tied to the Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile light rail that will connect Bethesda with New Carrollton.
With state and federal construction funding still unsecured for the $1.9 billion Purple Line project, setting aside construction costs for the two projects in the current spending plan would be a “premature and troubling” action, Leggett wrote, that could come “at the expense of projects that have been in the county’s planning and design process for years.”
In the memo, Leggett drove home the importance of projects including improvements to Goshen Road and East Gude Drive, along with a project to widen the northern portion of Snouffer School Road, a precursor to plans for turning the 130-acre Webb Tract into the home for the county’s police and fire/rescue training academy, the county school’s system’s food distribution warehouse and two other major county operations.
But in the straw vote, the council voted to delay $60 million of $104 million in construction funds for widening Goshen Road, which would push construction back from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2019. They also rejected Leggett’s recommendation to program nearly $6 million for East Gude Drive improvements, voting instead to push out the project past the county’s six-year spending plan.
The council split on whether to support the $20 million Snouffer School Road project recommended by Leggett or a scaled-back, $7 million project there. A hybrid proposal is in the works.
The straw vote called for programming $49.5 million for the Capital Crescent Trail — $27.6 million of which would be included in the six-year spending plan — and $80.5 million for the new entrance to the Bethesda Metro station.
Berliner said the funds were based on the construction schedule for the Purple Line.
County capital funds could be diverted to other projects in the future should state and federal funding be delayed for the Purple Line. “Making that choice does have consequences — there are trade-offs,” Berliner said at the May 13 council session. “We feel like we’ve made the right trade-offs in the right manner.”
Advocates have said funding the trail and the Bethesda Metro entrance would demonstrate the county’s support for the Purple Line and better position the project to receive state and federal funds.
But several council members, including Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) and Marc Elrich (D-At Large) called for striking a balance between major road projects and transit projects tied to the Purple Line.
Rice, of Germantown, said many upcounty areas would continue to be road-dependant for years, the Washington Examiner reported.