Update – 8:20 a.m., Thursday – Montgomery County State Sen. Chery Kagan (D-District 17) is making the case that the county shouldn’t have to pay for providing free shuttle bus service during Metro’s SafeTrack repair surges on the Red Line later this year.
On Wednesday, Kagan released a copy of a letter she sent June 29 to Gov. Larry Hogan and state Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn asking the state to pay for the county’s planned shuttle bus service that will transport riders between Red Line Metro stations during repair surges in August and October.
County officials last month estimated the shuttle bus service, using the county’s Ride On buses, could cost as much as $1 million.
In her letter, Kagan wrote she believes the state should bear the costs because it is a signatory of the WMATA compact, along with Washington, D.C., and Virginia, which governs how Metro is financed and operated. As a result, she wrote the state should provide funding to help mitigate commuting problems caused by Metro's maintenance surges. “Can you confirm for us that the State will be a full partner in the continued economic success of Montgomery County, one of Maryland’s key economic engines?” she wrote.
Kagan told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday she hopes the governor will provide the state funding.
“The governor talks a lot about economic development and Maryland being open for business,” Kagan said. “It seems to me if people can’t get to their jobs and visitors can’t enjoy tourist attractions, then that’s going to be detrimental to our state economy.”
If shuttle buses aren’t provided, she said, additional drivers on the county’s roadways are likely to exacerbate traffic.
“It is not reasonable for Montgomery County and Prince George’s County to fund what should be a state responsibility,” Kagan said.
Last month, Prince George’s County officials also detailed plans to provide free shuttle bus service and deploy additional buses along regular routes while SafeTrack repairs are occurring that affect Metro service in the county.
Kagan said she wasn’t expecting an immediate response to her letter—given that she sent it shortly before the July 4 holiday weekend. However, she said she has been in touch with Hogan’s chief of staff and hopes to receive an answer to her request in the next day or two.
Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the state's transportation department, said in an email the state is working closely with counties in other ways to help commuters navigate SafeTrack delays. She noted the Maryland Transit Administration is planning to increase capacity on MARC trains by adding rail cars on the Camden and Brunswick lines as needed. The state's highway administration is also planning to coordinate road construction projects to avoid causing traffic congestion from lane closures or scheduled maintenance.
"At every step of the way, [the Maryland Department of Transportation] is actively monitoring ridership on our rails and traffic on our roads to assist Marylanders in getting to work and home as quickly and safely as possible during these challenging times," Henson wrote in the email.
The county plans to provide the free shuttle buses during morning and afternoon rush hours between the Silver Spring and Takoma stations from Aug. 1 to 7 when the Red Line will be single-tracking while track repairs are underway. Shuttle buses are also planned to help transport commuters during single-tracking between the Shady Grove and Rockville stations Aug. 9 to 18 as well as from the Silver Spring to Fort Totten stations when the Red Line will be closed between Fort Totten and NoMa from Oct. 10 to Nov. 1.
Montgomery Transportation Director Al Roshdieh told the County Council last month the shuttle buses will cost the county $350,000 to $1 million depending on how much demand there is for the shuttles.
Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for County Executive Ike Leggett, said the county plans to move forward with its shuttle bus plans whether or not the state agrees to provide funds. He said it was important for Montgomery County to provide the service to Montgomery County residents.
"We don't know at this point how much it's going to cost," Lacefield said. "We're more inclined to let it play out and then make a judgment [on whether to request state funds.]"