A map showing the proposed route of the Corridor Cities Transitway. Via Montgomery County planning website
Gov. Larry Hogan, who earlier this fall delayed about $78 million in funding for the Corridor Cities Transitway bus rapid transit line in Rockville and Gaithersburg, said Friday he now hopes to restore the money for the project that Montgomery County officials believe is the most important transportation project behind construction of the light-rail Purple Line.
“We review the transportation plan twice a year,” Hogan said during a wide-ranging discussion with state Comptroller Peter Franchot at the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel and Conference Center that was moderated by Bethesda Magazine politics editor Lou Peck. “Hopefully if revenues go back up, we can make an adjustment in six months and put it back in.”
Earlier this month, state lawmakers representing the county sent a letter to Hogan warning him about the possible negative repercussions to the county’s economy if the bus rapid transit project is significantly delayed. The lawmakers wrote that engineering and design plans—which are 30 percent complete—may have to be redone by the time Hogan is proposing to restore the funding in 2023.
Hogan said the state delayed the funding after six-year projections for gas tax revenues dropped by more than $700 million due to lower gas prices.
The first phase of the transitway would connect the Shady Grove Metro station with residential neighborhoods, The Universities at Shady Grove and employers such as Adventist Healthcare. Construction. It’sis estimated to cost $545 million, according to the county’s planning department. The county has already spent $37 million to fund engineering and design work for the project.
On Friday, Hogan called the $78 million in delayed funding “a little bit of engineering money” and noted that no construction funds had been allocated for the transitway.
“I absolutely understand the importance of it,” Hogan said. “It’s still going to happen.”
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Hogan on Metro
Hogan also addressed Metro’s ongoing problems by saying he would like to see the transit operator fix its safety and reliability issues before it's provided with any additional funds.
He said he would not support imposing a sales tax on all Marylanders in order to create a new dedicated revenue source for Metro, although he wouldn’t oppose local jurisdictions if they decided to levy their own tax to raise funds for Metro. The idea of a 1-cent regionwide sales tax in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to provide Metro with a dedicated revenue source was pitched to Hogan, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe during a private presentation with Metro officials earlier this month.
“I’m opposed to increasing taxes,” Hogan said. “I’m willing to keep an open mind if local governments want to tax their citizens more—that’s going to be up to them to decide. We’re not going to tax the people in the state of Maryland, all across the state, to pay for Metro, I can tell you that.”
Franchot said he would support a dedicated source of revenue for the transit operator, but he said any proposal for that would have to “wait in line” until Metro repairs itself.
Metro is currently funded by a subsidy system based on jurisdictions’ populations, number of stations and average weekday ridership, according to Metro’s website.
Franchot rails on Purple Line lawsuit
Franchot didn’t hold back when sharing his thoughts on a federal lawsuit brought by Chevy Chase residents that has the potential to delay the start of construction on the Purple Line.
“This is a classic NIMBY, not in my backyard, individual obstructionist lawsuit that has been placed in the face of this project and it’s outrageous and it’s embarrassing, frankly, because the case is so flimsy,” Franchot said. “I cannot overstate the inadequacy, the thinness of this very selfish, small group of people objecting to this and standing in the way of something which is going to help the entire Washington area.”
A federal judge in August sided with the plaintiffs in an order that, if upheld, would force the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to conduct a new environmental assessment for the project. The judge’s order also prevents the state from receiving $900 million in federal funds to construct the 16.2-mile light rail line that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. Judge Richard Leon wrote in his ruling that his decision was based on how declining Metro ridership and safety issues could impact the Purple Line’s ridership.
The FTA, state and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have all asked the judge to reconsider his decision.
Since the ruling, two of the plaintiffs in the case—Chevy Chase residents Christine Real de Azua and John Fitzgerald—have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers not to issue a different environmental permit that would allow for construction to proceed.
On Friday, Hogan said that despite the lawsuit, the project is moving forward with engineering design and property acquisitions.
“It’s frustrating. We can’t really control what happens in the court system,” Hogan said. “I can’t predict how fast it’s going to happen. We’re hoping the courts are going to expeditiously get this case heard, over with and decided so we can proceed with construction.”
He said “it’s going to be an expensive problem” if construction, which is scheduled to begin this winter, is delayed.
“I can tell you in the meantime we’re not slowing down, we’re not stopping,” Hogan said. “We’re still doing everything we can short of construction.”