County Executive Ike Leggett won’t submit controversial state legislation this year that would allow for creation of a county Transit Authority to raise funds, build and operate a countywide bus rapid transit system.
Leggett’s proposal, the subject of multiple public hearings and intense study by a county-organized Transit Task Force, faced significant community opposition from the start as some feared it would lead to a property tax increase to help pay for the system.
It also faced skepticism from some of the County Council’s biggest transit supporters, including council members George Leventhal and Roger Berliner. As the debate on Leggett’s proposal continued during the past year, Leventhal and Berliner both suggested Leggett hold off on the Transit Authority enabling legislation until the county’s Rapid Transit System (RTS) was closer to fruition.
“I do not plan to introduce State legislation this year that would enable the County Council to create an independent Montgomery County Transit Authority. Instead, the County will undertake a community education and outreach effort on the benefits of [bus rapid transit],” Leggett wrote in a letter last week that accompanied the Transit Task Force’s final report on the proposal.
Leggett asked the Transit Task Force, which came up with recommendations in 2012 that led to a 2013 countywide master plan for bus rapid transit, to reconvene and study his proposal after he pulled it from a list of bills to be considered in the 2015 General Assembly.
While the task force’s final report was generally in favor of proceeding with the Transit Authority legislation, some within the group of county officials, elected officials, community activists and others expressed major concerns in separate statements.
“To briefly summarize, we cannot say whether a proposal similar to what the report has outlined can pass the County’s legislative Delegation, work its way through the full legislative process, withstand the scrutiny of the Governor, and then obtain the necessary support of a majority of the County Council to be implemented,” a statement from District 16 Del. Marc Korman and District 15 Sen. Brian Feldman said.
The two were the only members of the Transit Task Force who also serve in the county’s delegation to the General Assembly, which would have to approve the legislation.
“Additionally, we know there is continued concern from some members of the community,” Korman and Feldman wrote. “Perhaps more importantly, most County residents are completely unaware of the [Independent Transit Authority] or RTS proposals and the benefits, or detriments, of those plans.”
Korman and Feldman suggested piloting bus rapid transit on either Veirs Mill Road or the Corridor Cities Transitway, an approach that wouldn’t preclude creating an independent county Transit Authority in the future.
Map of Montgomery County's proposed Rapid Transit System prepared by Communities for Transit, a group advocating for the system
The Montgomery County Civic Federation, a group that says it represents more than 150,000 households from civic associations across the county, also submitted its own statement in which it claimed the task force’s final report was approved by only 12 of the 33 voting members. It also stated its opposition to the Transit Authority.
In his letter last week, Leggett again explained why he thinks bus rapid transit “is crucial to Montgomery County’s future if we are to reduce traffic congestion, spur business growth and attract a talented workforce to build on our innovation economy.”
But he also acknowledged the “significant community concern” expressed during at least three public input sessions over the last year and said “perhaps more importantly, most county residents are unaware of the considerable benefits that a bus rapid transit system would bring to our county and its residents.”
County and state transportation officials are studying the first four corridors of the proposed RTS system: MD 355 North, MD 355 South, Route 29 and Veirs Mill Road.
A cost estimate published by the county and a consultant during the task force’s work last summer pegged the construction price of those four corridors at $1.6 billion with an annual operating cost of $51.6 million for 88 buses.