Tuesday, February 26, 2013

County Executive Ike Leggett Delivers State of County Address

Speaking before hundreds of County residents at the Silver Spring Civic Building on February 20, County Executive Ike Leggett said that, “the state of Montgomery County is strong – and growing stronger.” Among the many topics covered by the address were the County’s future transportation needs and how to pay for them. 

Leggett said, “Montgomery County is on a journey of progress. But, we cannot move forward without a transportation system that meets our needs, now and in the future. This is why we have three new major transportation projects that must be built within the next decade – and will keep our County moving for decades to come.

“First, the Purple Line, 16 miles of light rail, will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton, connecting the County with the University of Maryland in College Park. Second, the Corridor Cities Transitway will be a 15-mile-long bus rapid transit system traveling from the Shady Grove Metro station to the COMSAT site in Southern Clarksburg with 16 transit stations along the route. It will save the average commuter time, reduce the dependency on cars and carry up to 47,000 people daily by 2035. Third, the Rapid Transit Vehicle System (RTV) will create a transit network across the County, north to south and east to west. Riders will travel in stylish vehicles called RTV’s that could carry as many as 140 passengers per vehicle.

“We can’t build these critical transportation projects unless we can pay for them.
Montgomery County is doing its part. But we can’t – and we shouldn’t – have to shoulder the burden all alone. Several years ago, I virtually stood alone in advocating for an increase in the State’s gasoline tax. It wasn’t popular then, and it isn’t popular now. But we needed it then, and we still need it now. In fact, we need an increase in transportation revenue now more than ever before.

“That’s why I call upon the State legislature to do the difficult thing, the courageous thing, the necessary thing and the right thing: Pass an increase in the state’s gasoline tax now. It hasn’t been increased since 1992 –when George Bush Senior was President. This will help replenish the State’s Transportation Trust Fund and assist counties throughout the State to advance major transportation infrastructure.

Montgomery County is Maryland’s economic engine. Investing in transportation in our County pays off big time for all Marylanders.”

Leggett also cited the County’s progress in improving pedestrian safety. 

He said, “Speaking of saving lives, our five-year investment in pedestrian safety, based on the comprehensive blueprint for action I advanced in 2007, is paying off. For example, we have:

  • Reduced pedestrian fatalities from a high of 19 in 2008 to six in 2012;
  • Reduced all collisions by 12 percent overall and by 45 percent in locations with the highest concentrations of collisions; and
 The entire speech is available on the County’s website

Leggett Testifies in Annapolis for Comprehensive Transportation Financing

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett testified before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 20 concerning Senate Bill 830, the Transportation Financing Act.

Excerpts of Leggett’s speech are below:
“Now is the time – this is the year – for Maryland to reach a consensus on a plan that will produce significant and sustainable State revenues for transportation investment in this State. The State’s economic future depends on it.

“While we may not agree on the options selected, the Senate President’s plan creates the opportunity for a serious discussion to take place about the need to invest in our State’s transportation infrastructure.

“I believe now, more than ever, we are at a tipping point – one that Virginia has also finally realized – that in both rural and urban areas the lack of any new investment in transportation has taken its toll from a quality of life and economic development perspective. Developing and maintaining transportation infrastructure has to be a partnership – and Montgomery County is doing its part.

”Our list of transportation priorities reflects funds already spent and planned County investments totaling nearly $300 million – for transportation projects that by definition are the State’s responsibility. Why are we doing this? Because we had no choice!
Our needs alone are daunting. Montgomery County’s four priority projects, without full build outs, require over a billion dollars of State investment. One of these projects is the Watkins Mill Interchange located in the I-270 corridor, which, once completed, will result in the addition of nearly 15,000 new jobs.”

Although others in the State may think, ‘Your transit and failed intersection needs aren’t our problem,’ I would argue that they are, particularly if the Washington region is going to continue to be depended upon to be a key economic engine and creator of jobs for the State. All of our new master plans require transportation investments. These plans, and the jobs they will create, cannot move forward without this investment, which the State must partner in.

“With Northern Virginia’s HOT lanes that opened in the fall and the Silver Line opening next year, the regional competitive landscape for the Washington region has shifted. And, we are closely following the Virginia debate, which could very well produce a comprehensive funding plan by the end of the week.”

Leggett urged State lawmakers to act so that Maryland and Montgomery County will remain economically competitive in the future.

Metro Board Advances New Entrance at Medical Center Station

A project to build a new entrance at the Medical Center Metro station and a pedestrian crossing under Wisconsin Avenue to the east side of Rockville Pike (Maryland Route 355) was approved by the Metro Board of Directors this month. The Maryland Route 355 Crossing Improvements project will help accommodate increased transit ridership resulting from the expansion of the Navy National Medical Center by enhancing pedestrian access and safety.

Four new escalators and two new elevators will access the pedestrian tunnel from street level. Three new high-speed elevators will connect the pedestrian tunnel with the station mezzanine level. 

Montgomery County Executive Ike Legget, U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin and U.S. Congressman Chris Van Hollen announced funding for the project in August 2012. Under the arrangement, the Department of Defense and the Federal Highway Administration will fund the $68 million project. The funds will be paid to Montgomery County, which will have responsibility for designing and constructing the new entrance starting this spring.

This project is part of the County’s effort to relieve traffic congestion resulting from the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) that moved the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC to the campus of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, adding about 2,500 employees to the area and potentially doubling the outpatient visits to nearly one million annually. 

More information about BRAC is available on the County’s website.

Ride On Bus Operator Assists Police in Finding Lost Child

Thanks to an alert Ride On bus operator, a missing nine-year old girl from Germantown was reunited with her parents.  In the early evening of December 30, police received a call that the child was missing after going outside to ride her bike. Police began an immediate search of the neighborhood, concerned that the 35 degree temperature was dropping as night approached.

After hearing about the situation, Ride On’s Central Communications supervisor, Karen King, sent a radio message out to all bus operators about the search. A Ride On bus operator Larry Lane heard the message while driving his bus through the area. A short time later, he spotted the child.  Lane stopped his bus, brought the child on board, secured her bike to the bus and returned her to her worried parents. 

Ride On bus operators are called upon to perform many duties, and in this situation, being a hero was one of them.

Bethesda and Woodmont Avenues Project Update

Work continues on the public-private partnership project located on the former parking lot (Lot 31) at the corner of Bethesda and Woodmont avenues in Bethesda.  About 80 percent of the excavation work is now completed, which includes blasting to remove the hard, dense rock.  Blasting is expected to be complete by the end of February, weather permitting.

The first of three tower cranes is being erected on the site. Some concrete pours and work on foundations, footings and a permanent drainage system will begin in March. Once the concrete operation begins, trucks will use the Bethesda Avenue construction entrance, in addition to the Woodmont Avenue entrance.

To improve pedestrian and traffic safety, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation made changes to the signal timing at the intersection of Bethesda and Woodmont avenues in early January.  Traffic flow has improved on Bethesda Avenue. Additional pedestrian crossing signs have been installed within the Bethesda and Woodmont intersection.

For more information on parking options in Bethesda, visit the Division of Parking Management’s website.

Bus Stop Improvement Program Making a Difference

Transit Services’ Bus Stop Improvement Program is in its seventh year of operation and has upgraded two-thirds of Ride On’s 5,000 bus stops.  The program systematically evaluates and upgrades bus stops by addressing safety issues, such as ensuring waiting passengers are not in danger; making sure the bus stop is reasonably close to a safe street crossing; would improvements make nearby crossings safer; and “ensuring the path to the bus stop is accessible. 

In planning improvements, staff consider the walking routes patrons will take to destinations and housing.  About $7 million in infrastructure enhancements have been made. 

The bus stop program coordinates with other Montgomery County Department of Transportation projects to bring about innovative and attractive upgrades, including the sidewalk construction program, Americans with Disabilities Act improvements and traffic calming projects.

For more information, visit Ride On’s website.  Or, call 311 (TTY, call 301-251-4850), Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Transportation Options for Seniors

Seniors in Montgomery County have a variety of transportation options available to them.  First and foremost is the County’s own Ride On bus system, offering 82 routes.  Every Ride On bus is lift-equipped to handle wheelchairs and most buses kneel to make entry easy.  Best of all, seniors ride free from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and at half fare during other times.  MetroBus service is also available for longer trips, including into the District of Columbia.

Special training to help first-time passengers is available through the Connect A Ride program at senior centers and other locations. 

Other transportation options include MetroAccess and Medicaid Transportation for medical appointments, Call ‘N Ride--discounted coupons used for taxi trips, and a special senior bus service sponsored by the County’s Department of Health and Human Services that provides free Ride On transportation to recreation centers or to shopping destinations.

The “At-A-Glance” reference guide for seniors lists participating organizations and phone numbers. Or, call 311 (TTY, call 301-251-4850), Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

More information about Ride On is available on the County’s website.  

Report Confirms What You Already Know - Washington Drivers Have the Worst Commute in the Country

The Washington DC area has the dubious distinction of being rated number one in traffic congestion in the nation according to the recently released annual report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.  The report introduced the Planning Time Index to help drivers estimate how long a trip will take. In Washington, the report suggests allowing three hours for a half-hour trip to ensure on-time arrival 19 out of 20 times.  Anyone who travels regularly in the region knows first-hand about these kinds of delays.

For more information, go to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s website.  

Safe Routes to School Program Making Progress

The County Department of Transportation’s (MCDOT) Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program is successfully reducing pedestrian collisions at schools targeted by the program.

SRTS is funded through grants from the Maryland Highway Safety office, and a two-year grant that funded education activities at six County schools recently concluded.  Under the effort, the Safe Routes to School coordinator created walking route maps for students and conducted presentations on safe walking and biking behavior. MCDOT installed or replaced school zone signs; remarked or installed crosswalks and constructed new sidewalks. Enforcement activities conducted by County Police included monitoring speeds in front of schools and reinforcing safe pick up and drop off procedures with parents.

The Safe Routes to School coordinator also plans International Walk to School Day events. In 2010, the main event was hosted at East Silver Spring Elementary School where over 200 students, parents and faculty were joined by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood. The event has grown each year, with 47 schools participating in 2012.

For more information, visit the County’s pedestrian safety website

Ripley Street Portion of Metropolitan Branch Trail Opened in Silver Spring; Will Enhance Accessibility Around Transit Center

The extension of the Metropolitan Branch Trail at the Silver Spring Metro Station to Ripley Street is now open.  Last month, a portion of the trail opened to enhance accessibility around the Transit Center.

The trail now extends from Ripley Street to the south end of the MARC train platform.

Reminder: Ride On Has Eliminated Paper Passes

Ride On bus passengers are reminded that as of January 31, paper passes, including the Youth Cruiser Pass, have been phased out.  Passengers can now load monthly passes onto their SmarTrip® cards instead. The $45 monthly pass provides customers unlimited rides on Ride On buses for an entire calendar month.  Monthly passes can be loaded onto SmarTrip® cards either in person or online.  When adding value online, customers have the option to purchase monthly passes automatically.  The monthly pass value is then added automatically to a purchaser’s card seven days before the end of each month.

Customers who prefer to add the monthly pass value to a SmarTrip® card in person, may do so at transit stores in Silver Spring and Friendship Heights, at County offices in downtown Rockville, or at various retail stores. The County’s website lists details on all the locations.

Passengers will continue to have the option of paying fares with cash. However, the Ride On monthly pass represents more than a 40 percent savings over paying cash fares on regular Ride On routes.

For information, go to the Division of Transit Services’ website or call 311 (TTY, call 301-251-4850) Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.