Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett wants the Maryland Transit Administration to reconsider its proposal to shut down a commuter bus that delivers people from Columbia, Burtonsville and Olney to the Walter Reed Military Medical Center Campus.
In a letter to MTA administrator Ralign Wells, Leggett said a 45 percent increase in personel at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center means the county and state must work to encourage greater use of mass transit in the area, not diminish it. He pointed to a traffic mitigation plan developed by the Montgomery County and Maryland Departments of Transportation that touted greater access to transit as one of its key elements.
In June, the MTA will hold public hearings on the proposed closure of ICC Commuter Bus No. 203, which an MTA spokesperson told us earlier this week is averaging fewer than 15 riders per trip. MTA had projected an average of about 20 riders per trip with that number growing to 30 riders per trip over a 24-month period.
Leggett asks the MTA to look at targeted outreach efforts or a redesign of services as a way to redeploy resources the agency says can be better used elsewhere:
Bethesda is one of the most significant employment hubs in Maryland, with traffic congestion that demands greater use of rapid transit alternatives rather than a reduction in service. With the passage of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) law in 2005 that established the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, 3,600 personnel have relocated from the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. It is important to note that this 45 percent increase in personnel at Walter Reed-Bethesda took place directly across Rockville Pike from the National Institutes of Health which has approximately 18,000 personnel.
Collaborating with the Navy, NIH and the local community, the Maryland and Montgomery County Departments of Transportation worked together to devise a comprehensive traffic mitigation strategy that had three key elements to improve mobility and pedestrian safety near WRNMMC. Those elements included: projects to provide short-term operational improvements to nearby major intersections; long-term improvements to provide greater access to and promote greater use of transit; and improvements to pedestrian and bicycle facilities for safe, walkable communities near the medical center. The biggest project which is just about to get under way is the Multimodal Crossing Project at the Medical Center Metro Station, a project that will encourage greater use of bus and rail transit by creating new and safer entrances…
…I understand and appreciate MTA’s need to make better use of available resources. The County continues to need additional transit opportunities for its residents and to encourage more drivers to get out of their cars. There may be opportunities to attract more riders through schedule modification, targeted outreach efforts or a redesign of services. I encourage you to consider redeploying these resources, and I ask that you review and consider putting additional transit resources to the Bethesda BRAC and Shady Grove Life Sciences areas.
Montgomery County BRAC Implementation coordinator Phil Alperson said he will give the county’s view at a public hearing on June 6 in Gaithersburg. Ilaya Hopkins, a Bethesda civic activist and member of the Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee, is expected to join him.
Arlington County transportation planner and blogger Dan Malouff called the move a “classic bait and switch from highway builders,” who promise a multimodal road to build political support for a project before cutting those other modes later.
Flickr photo by thisisbossi
Montgomery County says a recent analysis of car collisions with pedestrians proves its pedestrian safety efforts are working, despite that data showing a bump in pedestrian collisions in 2012 and seven pedestrian fatalities already this year.
An analysis at the May 8 CountyStat review of County Executive Isiah Leggett’s Pedestrian Safety Initiative showed the most severe collisions involving either debilitating injury or death decreased by 20 percent in 2012 compared to 2011. But total pedestrian collisions increased from 399 in 2011 to 423 in 2012, a result of what the county says was an increase in collisions in private parking lots and garages.
Still, the seven pedestrian fatalities in the first quarter of this year have already surpassed the six pedestrian fatalities in all of of 2012. There were 11 pedestrian fatalities in 2011 and a high of 19 in 2008.
In December, the county said pedestrian collisions had decreased by 12 percent since 2009, when County Executive Isiah Leggett’s Initiative was first funded.
“In 2007, my Pedestrian Safety Initiative outlined a blueprint for reducing pedestrian collisions in Montgomery County, and I am gratified that the plan appears to be working,” Leggett said in a release. “Through engineering, education and enforcement, as well as a broad partnership between residents, County departments and agencies, and the State Highway Administration, the severity of collisions are trending downward, particularly in the areas that need the most help. Targeted interventions really can make a difference in reducing the number of pedestrians who are injured or killed.”
In Bethesda, a group of pedestrian activists and Bethesda Elementary School parents joined together to ask the county to lower speed limits, increase fines and install crossing signals that allow pedestrians an exclusive window to cross in school zones.
Those two major changes from County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommended budget will be paid for in part by adjustments to the six-year Capital Improvement budget and a transfer of roughly $14 million from other county funds into its general fund. The 10 percent cut in the energy tax, which was instituted three years ago, will mean the loss of $11.6 million in revenue.
The Council unanimously agreed on the budget, despite councilmember Phil Andrews’ contention that Leggett’s proposed pay increases for county employees were too large. Andrews said he will vote against the County Government portion of the budget when it is formalized next week. Councilmember Marc Elrich said not enough money was dedicated to restoring social service cuts that came during the recession.
“I think if most of our residents were given a choice between reducing their average energy tax bills by just 65 cents per month or restoring some of these services, they would choose the services,” Elrich said in a statement.
The Council also added $100,000 to Leggett’s 10 percent bump in county library funding to increase the purchase of e-Books. In the six-year Capital Improvements budget, the Council differed on some of Leggett’s recommendations by keeping funding for the Bethesda Metro Station South Entrance on track, accelerating more than $17 million for street resurfacing and sidewalk repairs and adding $4 million for bridge renovations, including on the Elmhirst Parkway bridge in Bethesda.
In a statement, Leggett commended the Council for its work in finalizing the budget, but took issue with the energy tax cut. The Council approved 99 percent of Leggett’s recommended budget, which is fairly typical:
I am, however, particularly concerned about two Council actions that create an $18 million problem this year and create greater difficulties in balancing the budget in FY15 and beyond.
The energy tax cut of 10 percent reduces revenues by $11.6 million in FY14 and well into the future. One of the many reasons why I recommended retaining the energy tax at the current level is that a substantial portion of the tax comes from federal and other tax-exempt facilities in the County that otherwise pay nothing to the County for the services that they consume. This reduction reduces our budget flexibility in future years.
I also do not believe the Council should “borrow” $6.7 million in funds I set aside to pay for retired County employees’ health benefits. Those funds will have to be repaid next year, which will result in higher future obligations.
I understand the Council’s desire to meet its own policy goals and the tremendous demands that make these decisions so difficult. My goal is to continue to improve our fiscal stability that we have worked so tirelessly and collaboratively to achieve.
The parking fee structure for downtown Bethesda will change, as Leggett recommended. The Council also agreed to add 40 police positions and double the amount of School Resource Officers from 6 to 12.
Flickr photo by dan reed!
For the first time in four years, Montgomery County employees will get a pay raise after the County Council today approved County Executive Isiah Leggett’s negotiated $32 million in increases for FY14.
The lone dissenting vote was from Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) who argued Leggett’s agreed upon increases with the County’s three employee unions were too large.
Leggett negotiated a 3.25 percent cost-of-living increase that will come in September. Police officers will get a 2.1 percent increase and career firefighters will get a 2.75 percent increase in July.
Eligible employees will get step increases of 3.5 percent on their anniversary date.
From Andrews’ statement:
County employees deserve a pay raise after three years without a step increase and four years without a general wage adjustment, and I support (and proposed in March) a reasonable and sustainable increase in pay of 4-6 percent for county employees for each of the next two years. However, the pay raises of 13.5 percent over two years for most non-public safety county employees; 14.7 percent over two years for most police officers, and 19.5 percent over two years for most career firefighters agreed to by County Executive Leggett and the County Council are excessive, irresponsible and unsustainable. These pay raises will cost taxpayers $31 million in FY14, $73 million in FY15, and $85 million in FY16.
Leggett argued that after four years of holding the line during the Great Recession, county employees deserved the raise:
Our cost cutting efforts were necessary, but they called for great sacrifice from County employees. Over the past four years, the average County employee has contributed over $30,000 to help close $2.7 billion in budgetary gaps. Based on the actions already taken, each employee will continue to contribute up to $6,500 a year well into the future.
The County Council agreed.
County Executive Isiah Leggett today said his controversial tree canopy bill is a fair compromise between conservationists and builders who do tear-down home projects in Bethesda’s older neighborhoods.
Leggett’s Tree Canopy Conservation bill, before the County Council now, would require builders or land owners in small lots to pay a fee for lost canopy during large home addition or home rebuilding projects. The county’s Department of Environmental Protection has used overhead imagery of Bethesda neighborhoods where “mansionization” is common to show the loss of tree canopy over the last decade.
The fees would go into a county-operated tree replacement fund.
“This bill strikes what I consider to be a balance between those who want more stringent regulations to protect trees and those who feel that additional protection is a burden,” Leggett said. “It’s a good balance in my opinion.”
The building industry, at least initially, did not agree. On Friday, Leggett joined Caren Madsen and Arlene Bruhn from Conservation Montgomery to talk up the bill and plant a tree near the Bethesda Library to celebrate Arbor Day.
“Not only are we having what we call mansionization, in addition to all the sediment challenges we have, we lose the trees,” Leggett said. “You simply can not easily replace those trees that are lost. We must act now to protect and restore the valuable community resources that we believe are in this bill.”
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) will be in Bethesda tomorrow to help plant two trees in celebration of National Arbor Day and to encourage the County Council to pass his controversial tree canopy conservation bill.
The bill, which would require private property owners in small lots to pay a fee for lost canopy, is aimed at the many homeowners in older Bethesda neighborhoods who are taking down old homes and replacing them with supersized ones.
Leggett and the county’s Department of Environmental Protection argue this has led to significant loss of tree canopy that until now hasn’t been on the county’s radar because development was taking place at bigger lots. The bill proposes to take the fees and create a county-managed fund for planting new trees nearby.
In their presentation to the County Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee earlier this year, Environmental Protection officials used overhead images of Bethesda neighborhoods to show the loss of tree canopy over the last decade.
The Transportation and Environment Committee is expected to make a final recommendation on the bill in June, after work is finished on the FY14 budget.
On Friday, Leggett will join Conservation Montgomery, which is in favor of the bill, to plant a yellowwood tree and dogwood tree at the Bethesda Library overlooking Caroline Freeland Park.
A press release says the Bethesda Garden Club and B-CC High School students will water the trees during the summer.
County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) will speak about County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recently released budget at a community meeting tonight and Leggett will answer questions about his proposal in an online chat tomorrow.
Floreen will address the $4.8 billion budget from Leggett, which includes a 4.1 percent increase from last year’s budget with cost-of-living increases for county employees, expanded library hours and 40 additional police personnel, in the monthly meeting of the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board.
The Board will also receive a presentation from the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection on recycling and sustainability goals. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at a special location, the Avenel Community Association in Potomac (9501 Beman Woods Way). It is open to the public.
Leggett will address any questions about the budget, which now heads to the County Council, in an online chat from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
Residents can start submitting questions now at the county’s website.
The budget includes a moderate property tax increase and the continuation of the county’s energy tax, which Councilman Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) said should be cut by 10 percent on Friday. Andrews again argued that pay increases Leggett negotiated with the county’s firefighters, police and employees are too much at this time.
The Council’s public hearing on the budget will be April 9 to April 11.
Also tomorrow is a Walter Reed BRAC Integration Committee meeting, where State Highway Administration officials will update residents on the improvement project at Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane. County Planning Staff will give a presentation on Bus Rapid Transit, and what that could mean for repurposing two lanes of traffic on Rockville Pike.
The BRAC meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane).
Flickr photo by dan reed!
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) today proposed a $4.8 billion operating budget that would add School Resource Officers to more schools, restore some funding to libraries and fund pay raises for many county employees for the first time in four years.
Leggett said the county saved $469 million since FY 08 with savings from reducing the county workforce and denying cost of living increases. Because of a recent ruling from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals against the county’s stance on binding arbitration, Leggett negotiated a total of $31.6 million in raises for county employees, a $15.3 million increase from last year, with county employee unions.
“My judgment is that if we had failed to reach agreement and the matter went to arbitration, the result would likely be arbitrator-mandated decisions on raises that could double or triple the rate of raises contained in the package I negotiated with our unions,” Leggett said.
Leggett proposed a 4.1 percent budget increase from last year, what he said was a sign that the county had survived the worst of the Great Recession and economic downturn.
“This is a day we are making a transition, but it is not the day that we all hope for yet,” Leggett said.
The budget includes a property tax increase less than the average rate of inflation, which would mean an additional $80 a year from an average homeowner in the county. The budget relies on increased state aid, lower than estimated debt service costs and higher-than-projected income tax revenue to close a $136 million budget gap.
The proposal adds 40 more police personnel, part of Leggett’s three-year plan to add 120 new officers and 23 police civilian employees. That includes doubling the amount of School Resource Officers, police personnel assigned to county high schools.
Leggett proposed funding MCPS at the minimum level required by the state’s Maintenance of Effort law, which has already drawn some reaction from MCPS superintendent Joshua Starr. Starr recommended funding schools at $10 million more than the minimum Maintenance of Effort level.
Libraries would see a 10 percent bump in funding to partially restore the 26 percent cuts the department saw between 2007 and 2012. Leggett’s proposal would add 34 positions, expand hours at libraries open on Sundays to five hours, and restore 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours for major libraries such as Bethesda.
MCDOT funding proposals include the first phase of the Capital Bikeshare program, which the county hopes to introduce in Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase and Bethesda later this year. The budget also includes funding for the ongoing implementation of the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan.
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett today said it’s up to drivers to obey the law and pedestrians to keep from getting distracted to prevent the type of pedestrian collisions the county has seen this week.
The issue has again come to the forefront after pedestrian collisions in Bethesda on back-to-back days this week and four collisions countywide.
The collision on Wednesday morning on Old Georgetown Road left a 59-year-old man in critical condition at Suburban Hospital. In the time between the incidents on Tuesday and Wednesday, pedestrian advocate and Action Committee for Transit member Ben Ross responded to a police list of safety tips by saying the county should put more focus on telling drivers to obey the law.
Ross said all three incidents on Tuesday morning, which included one in Montgomery Village and one in Gaithersburg, happened in areas where the pedestrians were legally crossing.
In his press release today, Leggett (D) made it clear the onus was on both pedestrians and drivers to avoid similar accidents:
The recent spate of pedestrian collisions in Montgomery County is a terrible tragedy. The County is committed to keeping pedestrians safe, and we have engaged in an aggressive program to reduce collisions through engineering efforts and enhanced enforcement and education that is having excellent results. But, we also need the public’s help to improve safety. We need drivers to obey the law, yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, slow down, pay attention and look out for pedestrians. We need drivers to eliminate distractions, put down their electronic devices and drive less aggressively. We need pedestrians to be vigilant, on guard and undistracted. They should use crosswalks, cross only with walk signals and never assume that drivers see them and will yield to them when they step into the road. We need everyone to be engaged to make sure that crossing the street is not a death defying act.
In December, Leggett and other Montgomery leaders celebrated the five-year anniversary of his Pedestrian Safety Initiative, which the county says has led to a 12 percent decrease in severe pedestrian collisions and a 21 percent decrease in the number of pedestrians incapacitated or killed since the program first received funding in 2009.
In another list of pedestrian safety tips that was part of today’s release, Leggett’s office were sure to urge drivers to obey the law and watch out for pedestrians:
Be aware of pedestrians and be prepared to stop.
· Don’t drive aggressively.
· Don’t drive distractedly – put away electronic devices while driving.
· Slow down and obey the posted speed limits.
· Be patient, especially when young children, seniors or persons with disabilities are present.
Pedestrians are urged to do their part because even doing everything right – crossing with a walk signal and in the crosswalk – is not enough to guarantee safety. In a collision between a pedestrian and a vehicle, the pedestrian always loses. Pedestrians should:
· Remain vigilant when crossing the street, because it’s a “danger zone.”
· Cross the street at signals, marked crosswalks and intersections.
· Don’t step off the curb without looking left, right and then left again.
· Be alert for drivers who aren’t paying attention.
· Don’t count on drivers to see you or react in time.
· Get off the cell phone so you’re not distracted.
· Don’t talk to friends while crossing – stay focused on crossing safely.
· When crossing, pay attention and keep looking around for cars.
· Stay visible after dark and in bad weather.
· Use pedestrian pushbuttons – they give more walk time to pedestrians
There are more than 13,000 “Harlem Shake” videos on YouTube, but probably not many like this from County Executive Isiah Leggett.
Leggett joined the Jewish Council for the Aging on Sunday in Rockville for its Senior Prom and began the proceedings with an interpretation heavy on arm waving, hips and that included a little tongue.
As far as local and state politicians go, Leggett is in the lead. He might want to thank the man in the brown hat (at the :27 mark and pictured here) for his help.
Video via Suzanne Hickey
As included in today’s “Morning Notes,” a group of Maryland State Senators is pushing a bill that would exempt defense contractor Lockheed Martin from paying about $450,000 a year in hotel taxes and force Montgomery County to refund $1.4 million in taxes collected since 2010 on Lockheed’s Center for Leadership Excellence.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has proposed a tax break and grant for Lockheed. Both failed to gain the support of the County Council.
The Bethesda-based company argues the Center, which includes conference rooms, a restaurant and lodging, should not be subject to the county’s commercial hotel tax because it is used for employees only.
County councilmembers against Leggett’s past proposals argued the hotel tax does legally apply to the Center, Lockheed knew of the tax when it built the facility, the Center competes with other commercial hotels that do pay the tax and that money is needed to pay for county services.
Still others, including the Washington Post editorial board last year, argued members of the Council were allowing peace activists against Lockheed to mask the economic benefit the company brings to the county.
Now, led by State Senator Nancy King (D-Dist. 39), a group of senators is advancing a measure that would exempt facilities such as Lockheed’s Center from such payments and force Montgomery County to refund past taxes.
What do you think? Please vote in the poll below and leave your opinions in the comments section.
Flickr photo by kgunnar
As homeowners in Bethesda supersize old homes in narrow lots, Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection says there must be a stricter system for protecting and replacing tree canopy lost in the process.
County Executive Isiah Leggett last year introduced a Tree Canopy Conservation bill that would force private property owners in small lots to pay a still-to-be-determined fee for lost canopy into a fund that Montgomery would then use to plant new trees.
Now, the County Council is wrangling with both sides to find a compromise.
Members of the building industry say the county shouldn’t legislate tree protection on private property, that they already avoid removing trees because of associated costs and that existing stormwater management requirements make protecting trees extremely difficult.
Some conservationists say the bill doesn’t go far enough, that replacing mature trees with new ones still takes away from the canopy, which everybody agrees is important for environmental and economic reasons.
The Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee has held a public hearing and two worksessions on the legislation and a corresponding bill that would give the county more control over tree removal in right-of-ways.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) was in attendance last night when Gov. Martin O’Malley, House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller announced their gas tax plan in Annapolis.
Today his office released a statement in which the longtime supporter of raising the gas tax for the first time since 1992 praised the state’s political leadership.
Leggett and county leaders say the proposal, which would effectively raise the price of gas by 2 cents a gallon starting in July and another 7 cents per gallon starting next July, is necessary to restore the state’s dwindling Transportation Trust Fund and provide dollars to match the federal government’s support of the Purple Line light rail.
Raising gas prices is politically unpopular, with polls showing a clear majority of Marylanders are against it. Leggett said it was even more unpopular in 2006, when he first proposed it and O’Malley’s support was less clear:
“I am very pleased that Governor O’Malley, Senate President Miller, and Speaker Busch have joined forces to insure that the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund has the needed resources to maintain and improve our State’s roads and transportation systems and grow jobs and business into the future.
“Several years ago, I virtually stood alone in advocating for an increase in the state’s gasoline tax — which hasn’t been increased since 1992, when George Bush Senior was President. It wasn’t popular then, and it isn’t popular now. But we needed it then, and we still need it now.
“This will help replenish the State’s Transportation Trust Fund and assist counties throughout the state to advance major transportation infrastructure. Inaction costs commuters even more time stuck in congestion and costs the State jobs and investment.”
The proposal is projected to raise $3.4 billion in transportation funding over the next five years, according to the Washington Post.
Executives from D.C.-based developer Akridge, investment partner Rockwood Capital, County Executive Isiah Leggett, County Councilmembers and business representatives cut the ribbon on Tuesday at Bethesda’s first new Class A office building since 2001.
Akridge and Rockwood purchased the vacant building from the General Services Administration for $12.5 million via an online auction in 2010. The company then set about replacing everything but the concrete, Akridge President Matthew Klein said, in an effort to make the building LEED Gold certified.
“We essentially recycled an entire office building,” Klein said.
Akridge recycled 50 percent of the demolition debris and used more than more than 20 percent recycled content in the rebuild, which includes large panes of glass on the west and north sides of the 120,000-square-foot building that stands less than a block from the Bethesda Metro station.
The 10-story building was built in 1964 and was once home to offices of the National Institutes of Health. It was vacant for more than eight years before the GSA put it up for auction.
Earlier this month, an Akridge spokesperson said none of the building had yet been leased, though the developer is confident in the interest the building has received so far.
For Leggett and the County Councilmembers in attendance (Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac), Nancy Floreen (D-At large), George Leventhal (D-At large) and Hans Riemer (D-At large)) the appeal of a rare new Class A office building in downtown Bethesda was obvious.
“We see that we’ve brought more vitality back to Bethesda to add to the ambience and the atmosphere that already exists here,” Leggett said. “This is the first of what I hope to be many Class A office buildings that will continue to be in the Bethesda area.”
In November, County officials celebrated the groundbreaking for construction on a 220,000-square-foot Class A office building at 4500 East-West Highway, on the former site of a McDonald’s.
“We are proud of every aspect of what this means for our community: Class A office space, smart growth, a good urban feel. The architecture in my judgement in our county is not what I aspire for it to be and I am so grateful that we have this kind of urban feel to this spot in particular,” Berliner said. “I think obviously the sustainability aspect of your project matters. We want this to be an example of what every new building in Montgomery County ought to be.”
Leggett Says Employee Raise Necessary To Avoid Arbitration — County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) defended his recent deal with county employee unions to give workers their first pay raise in four years at the cost of about $11 million a year. Leggett said leaving matters to binding arbitration would have meant steeper costs for the county. [Washington Post]
Police Warn of Telephone Scam — Police believe three recent incidents are part of the same telephone scam. None happened in Bethesda, but one in Rockville in which the caller told a resident her son had been in a car accident and kidnapped was similar to a series of telephone scams taking advantage of elderly residents last year in Friendship Heights. [Montgomery County Police]
Bethesda Cycling Instructor Helps To Raise Money For Rare Cancer Research — Colleen Fisher, a Chevy Chase resident and group cycling instructor at Equinox on Bethesda Row, recently helped raise $176,000 as part of the Cycle For Survival. Fisher and her team cycled for the four hours of the fundraiser. [The Gazette]
Flickr photo by ehpien