Montgomery County Releases New Details on Independent Transit Authority

Montgomery County Releases New Details on Independent Transit Authority

Proposed transit authority would be funded partially through a new county tax and is being planned to streamline the development of local projects that could lead to significant growth

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The title and photos posted with the fact sheet the county released Friday afternoon detailing the Independent Transit Authority.

Montgomery County officials provided more details on the proposed public transit authority first pitched by County Executive Ike Leggett in his third inauguration speech in December, including how it would be funded and the transit projects it would be responsible for.

The Independent Transit Authority would be funded through a new “county transit tax” that would replace the current transit tax, which is paid by all county taxpayers, according to a fact sheet posted Friday afternoon on the county’s website.

The fact sheet described the tax as “a stable and reliable source of revenue for funding transit.” Other funding for the transit authority would come from the county’s capital budget, state and federal grants, private-sector contributions, fare revenues from public transit and parking lot district revenue.

The tax rate would be set by the Montgomery County Council. Patrick Lacefield, Leggett’s spokesman, said there’s no plan to raise the transit tax, but said, “We’re trying to deal with the fact that to push rapid transit forward, we need resources.”

The council would decide whether to raise the tax rate. “The taxing authority would stay just where it is now,” Lacefield said, “with the County Council.”

The new transit authority would focus on developing the planned Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) in the county; coordinate construction of transit projects such as the Purple Line with the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and the Maryland Transit Authority; maintain and run the county’s fleet of RideOn transit vehicles; and operate the county’s four parking lot districts.

The county executive would appoint members to the transit authority’s board of directors, but the  County Council would have control over much of the decision-making, according to the fact sheet. The council would approve the authority’s capital project budget and confirm appointments to the authority’s board.

The county’s delegation of state legislators has submitted legislation to the General Assembly that would enable the county to set up the transit authority. Before the authority is approved, a “plethora” of public hearings will be scheduled so the community can offer input, according to Lacefield.

Lacefield said Leggett proposed the creation of a transit authority in order to streamline the process of developing rapid transit in the county, which could enable additional growth. Recent master plan approvals such as the White Oak Science Gateway have growth triggers that only allow for higher density development to take place if public transit is constructed, according to Lacefield.

“Certain places can only develop to their full extent if there’s transit,” Lacefield said. “Really what we’re talking about is increasing the tax base for the county and increasing the jobs. These projects have the potential to create the most jobs in a single swoop that have ever been created in the county. The revenue question works both ways. To get [rapid transit systems], are you going to have to spend money? Yes. But you have to spend money to make money.”

The new transit authority may be a way for the county to have a level of independence in infrastructure planning amidst what could be a sour political environment toward major transit projects in the state. Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed budget does include funding for the Purple Line, though he has expressed a desire to slim down the state budget and cut taxes.

In December, Hogan said his priority is to build roads and he later appointed Pete Rahn as his transportation secretary. Rahn is the former head of New Mexico’s Highway and Transportation Department, who Hogan introduced as “the best highway builder in the entire country.”

Meanwhile, County Council members including Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal are urging the State Highway Administration to speed up the planning of bus rapid transit projects that are part of the Corridor Cities Transitway.

At a meeting of county officials in December, Berliner said the planning process for bus rapid transit systems in the county needs “to be driven by the sense of urgency” that county officials feel about the projects.

Editor's note: We've clarified that the ITA will plan several Bus Rapid Transit systems in the county, not just the Corridor Cities Transitway, as a comment below notes.

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