Montgomery County state lawmakers are pushing back against a funding delay that has stalled design of the Corridor Cities Transitway—the transportation project that is the county’s second highest priority.
The county’s state delegation sent a letter last week to Gov. Larry Hogan warning him about the negative repercussions caused by delaying the funding for the bus rapid transit project that is anticipated to be one of the county’s largest drivers of future economic development.
“Maryland is and has ALWAYS been open for business as evidenced by the thriving biotech and other industries along the I-270 corridor that will be served by the [transitway],” the letter says. “The 16-mile CCT will provide faster, more direct transportation between residential and major employment areas; reduce congestion by up to 36,000 cars per day; support economic development consistent with local master plans; and reduce air pollution levels.”
Hogan last month delayed about $78 million in funding over the next six years for the project, which is no longer funded in the state’s proposed six-year transportation budget from 2017 to 2022. The funding was to be used to complete final designs, conduct preliminary engineering and purchase right-of-ways for the transit system. It did not include construction funds.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Del. Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery Village), chairman of the county’s House delegation, said the delay is an anti-business decision by Hogan.
“I think delaying the project is a slap in the face to businesses in our county and I hope the governor will reassess that decision,” Robinson said.
The first phase of the project would connect the Shady Grove Metro station with residential neighborhoods, the Universities at Shady Grove and major employers such as Adventist Healthcare in the Gaithersburg and Rockville areas. The state and county have already provided $37 million to fund engineering and design for the project. The design work is 30 percent complete, the letter notes.
The proposed route of the first phase of the CCT. (click to expand) Photo via MTA Maryland.
In the letter, the lawmakers say delaying the project will require additional investments because preliminary engineering may have to be redone by the time Hogan is proposing to fund the project again in 2023.
Al Roshdieh, director of the county’s Department of Transportation, also sent a letter to state Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn Thursday expressing his disappointment in the decision. He noted the transportation project is the county’s second most important behind the Purple Line, a 16-mile light-rail line that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton. He said the bus rapid transit line will provide Johns Hopkins University with a transportation link that will help transform the 138-acre Belward Farm it owns in the area into a “Science City” capable of generating “tens of thousands of jobs.”
Delaying the project will negatively impact the economic future of the county’s science corridor, he added.
“The [Great Seneca Science Corridor] Master Plan, which was approved and adopted by Montgomery County in 2010, allows for over 30,000 new jobs and 5,700 dwelling units in the area,” Roshdieh wrote. “However, the master plan is staged, and development can only be approved when certain ‘triggers’ are met. Currently we are in the first of four stages, and in order to reach the second stage—allowing an additional 2.3 million square feet of commercial development—the CCT needs to be fully funded for construction in the [transportation budget].”
Erin Henson, spokeswoman for the state transportation department, said Thursday that the state delayed the funding after six-year revenue projections for the state’s gas tax fell by $746 million. She said declining gas prices have lowered the sales tax revenue from gas purchases. A sales tax was added to the gas tax, which is applied based on how many gallons are sold, in 2013 and is lumped into the gas tax-revenue figures.
The state has estimated the Corridor Cities Transitway will cost about $550 million (in 2012 dollars). A second phase of the project is planned to connect the MARC Metropolitan Grove Station with the COMSAT property in Clarksburg via bus rapid transit. The state identified the preferred route of the transitway in 2012.
The Republican governor’s decision may be related to his feud with Democratic leaders over a law passed in the General Assembly earlier this year concerning how transportation projects are prioritized. Hogan vetoed the bill in April because he said it may have led to Maryland roads and highways being neglected. However, the General Assembly voted to override his veto, resulting in a law that forces the governor to publicly rate and rank transportation projects before including them in his proposed budget, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said in an email the governor's decision was the direct result of the gas tax bringing in less revenue.
"As the governor announced in July, the administration is investing more than $560 million in highway projects all across Montgomery County," Mayer wrote. Hogan held a press conference along I-270 in Potomac to announce the funding over the summer.
Robinson said he doesn’t believe Hogan delayed the project over the transportation scoring bill, but did say politics may be a factor.
“I think Montgomery County didn’t put the governor in office, so we’re not the first in line,” Robinson said. “I think he’s more likely to support things in areas of the state where his supporters are, which I understand. But the fact remains that the center of economic development in the state is in Montgomery County.”
Robinson said legislators are examining ways to try to restore the funding for the project during the 2017 General Assembly, which starts in January.
On Tuesday, County Council member Roger Berliner, who chairs the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment committee, said he was preparing a resolution that would put the council on the record asking Hogan to reconsider the funding delay.
“This is a decision that works against providing congestion relief, works against economic growth and works against quality of life,” Berliner said, adding the governor has “extraordinary authority” over the state budget. “We have to change the governor’s mind and I hope we can. I hope he’ll reconsider.”