I was born and raised in Montgomery County, started my business here, and have long been active in local civic and nonprofit organizations devoted to making Montgomery County a better place for all. We are a diverse community overflowing with talent and potential. We need a county government that delivers critical transportation infrastructure that connects our communities and ensures we get to our jobs, our schools, and everywhere we need to go in a safe, timely, and sustainable manner.
Sustainability: Transportation-related emissions account for 42 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in Montgomery County1. We must electrify the County’s fleet, (including our light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles), improve reliability and access to transit services, and design communities to make walking, biking, and transit the transportation modes of choice for more of our residents.
Safety: More than 40 people a year die in crashes on roads and highways in Montgomery County and we are farther from our Vision Zero goal of zero deaths or severe injuries than ever since the county adopted the approach in 20162. We must implement proven design solutions to prevent fatal or severe crashes.
Mobility: Traffic congestion in our region is among the worst in the United States. According to the Urban Mobility Report for 20193, we ranked third, worse than New York or Boston. Our neighbors in D.C. and Northern Virginia have been addressing this issue through the addition of infrastructure including Metro’s Silver Line, major investment in commuter rail, High Occupancy Toll lanes, protected bicycle lanes, sidewalks and trails.
Montgomery County hasn’t kept pace - building just 14 miles of Bus Rapid Transit in 14 years, much of it not in dedicated lanes4. We can do better with effective executive leadership to aggressively pursue innovation, collaboration, and funding to address our infrastructure backlogs.
Better Safety and Sustainability
We’re not making progress toward our Vision Zero goal of zero traffic deaths and severe injuries on county roadways. At least 40 people were killed in crashes in our county in 2020 (not including those killed on interstates such as I-495 and I-270, data that is kept separately) and at least 34 were killed in 20215 6 7.
We must do better by recognizing the importance of safe roadway design to make crashes less likely and protect all road users against severe or fatal injuries when crashes happen:
Upgrade our bus stops by eliminating dangerous mid-block crossings. Some pedestrian-related crashes are related to crossing to and from bus stops8. Too many of our bus stops are located long distances from the closest crosswalk, making them difficult to access. We’ll work with the State Highway Administration (SHA), Metrobus, and other stakeholders to build pedestrian-activated HAWK signals and protected crosswalks at bus stops - or we’ll move the stops closer to crosswalks.
Build 10 miles of “Tier 1” protected bicycle lanes a year. Physically protected bicycle lanes are important for safety and to provide the comfort necessary to new cyclists. We can build 10 miles of these new lanes a year, mirroring what Washington, D.C. is doing9. We already know which of these lanes are most needed thanks to the prioritization tiers created in the county’s Bicycle Master Plan10. Let’s start with the Tier 1 projects in four of the County’s Equity Focus Areas – Wheaton, White Oak, Langley Park, and downtown Silver Spring – resulting in safe bikeable and walkable networks within these denser neighborhoods11.
Rebuild Georgia Avenue as a grand boulevard. Georgia Avenue near the Beltway in Silver Spring is notoriously dangerous to navigate as a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist. We’ll partner with SHA to provide the county’s share of state funding12 for a project already being designed to transform this stretch with reduced turning movements, protected bicycle lanes, and comfortable and safe sidewalks to increase safety and attract investment in the commercial areas.
Build sidewalk and trail projects that have been consistently delayed in county budgets - or find alternatives to implement sooner. Many communities in Montgomery County were built without sidewalk infrastructure. Montgomery County must make sidewalk and shared use path projects a priority, including but not limited to, Bradley Boulevard13, Tuckerman Lane14, Piney Branch Road and University Boulevard in Long Branch, and Route 355 in Clarksburg15. Too often, these and other similar projects are delayed in the County’s six-year capital budget. We can do better by prioritizing long-promised projects near schools that connect to other trails and sidewalks while pursuing shorter term improvements such as crosswalks and traffic-calming devices. Sidewalks should be prioritized around future Purple Line stations, and in communities with higher incidence of crashes. Guidance will be drawn from the Pedestrian Master Plan.
Housing near transit. Zoning for mixed-income, mixed-use housing already exists at Metro and future Purple Line stations around Montgomery County. Unfortunately, progress building that housing hasn’t come fast enough in places such as Shady Grove, White Flint, and Glenmont. Why not? Because people who build these projects know residents want to live close to where they work. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the region’s job growth is happening outside of Montgomery County, therefore the vast majority of construction of new transit-oriented housing has been taking place outside Montgomery County16.
As County Executive, I will work with the community and property owners to identify the obstacles to more housing at our underutilized Metro stations and future Purple Line stations, implement a plan to remove those obstacles, and follow through to ensure action. I will act urgently to find affordable housing partners to develop and build income-restricted housing units co-located on County-owned parking facilities, libraries, recreation centers, and other government buildings near transit.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, ridership on the county’s Ride On bus service had dropped 20 percent from 2012 to 201917. Here is my plan:
Remap our bus routes. The current route maps were created decades ago. Travel patterns have changed and we have not kept up. Cities like Seattle, Houston, and Richmond found that a major remapping of their bus systems increased ridership by up to 10 percent without increasing costs – and were particularly helpful for service workers and others who rely on public transit on weekends and other non-peak travel periods18. We will utilize an audit and community input process to ensure equity.
Keep the system fare-free. I called for free Ride On service four years ago. It's time to make free Ride On fares permanent. Total fare revenue from our system was about $20 million annually. Increasing ridership with free fares is a small investment to make and removes barriers for low-income riders, according to the county’s own Fare Equity study19.
Build out our bus rapid transit corridors, prioritizing use of dedicated lanes. Dedicated bus lanes separate BRT buses from mixed traffic, allowing them to travel more quickly on their route. One BRT vehicle can take 90 cars off the road20 - but only if BRT travel is efficient. With fewer vehicles on the road, we reduce traffic congestion, reduce emissions, and promote more sustainable and efficient travel. Let’s move forward on the countywide BRT Corridors Master Plan, providing transit riders with swift and reliable rides, and encouraging others to choose transit.
De-carbonize our bus fleet. Replace all diesel buses going out of service with non-polluting electric buses, and aim to add at least 20 new electric buses a year to the fleet. Future contracts will be for all-electric buses and new depot construction and upgrades will reflect that.
Improve the mobile app for real-time tracking of Ride On buses, real-time vehicle-crowding data, and better trip planning options across multiple transit systems. Today, the app the county uses is too often inaccurate. A recent survey showed 74 percent of bus riders want apps or tech features to improve their experience21. Making the app bilingual will allow for more community utilization.
Work With the State. The Maryland Department of Transportation recently released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)22 for its Managed Lanes project to add toll lanes to part of I-495 and the American Legion Bridge and the southern portion of I-270. Should the project move forward, as County Executive it is my role to work with the State to mitigate impacts and ensure that transit projects are funded through toll revenues and a transit connection to Fairfax County in the Managed Lanes is implemented.
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Fund road maintenance and sidewalks. Montgomery County has amassed a neighborhood road maintenance backlog that is now over $737 million and a sidewalk repair backlog that’s more than $82 million23. We must increase our investment in all types of road resurfacing projects to address needed infrastructure repairs in more neighborhoods throughout the County. Sidewalk maintenance and the building of much-needed new neighborhood sidewalks should also be a higher priority. We’ll reform the County’s current neighborhood sidewalk request process so fewer projects get shut down by neighborhood opposition24. Sidewalks should be prioritized around future Purple Line stations, and in communities with higher incidence of traffic accidents. Guidance will be drawn from the Pedestrian Master Plan and the traffic incident map to ensure priorities are data-driven.
Support electrification of the transportation system. Federal and state programs must continue to provide incentives for replacing carbon-producing vehicles with their zero-emission counterparts. We’ll work with our Congressional representatives to support incentives, and ensure equity and widely accessible electric vehicle charging stations throughout the county. We will work with our county’s state delegation to advance state law to allow curbside charging stations and installations at townhome, condo, and apartment properties.
The biggest obstacle we face to improve our transportation system is how we pay for improvements. Recently, some county leaders have proposed extending the Metro Red Line north from Shady Grove to Germantown while acknowledging the idea is “aspirational” and would cost at least $1.4 billion25 with no funding source identified and Metro focusing on much-needed improvements to its existing system.
We must make more progress more quickly. We can do so by better utilizing a key piece of transportation infrastructure we already have: MARC train service.
Midday train service. Right now, MARC provides service limited to southbound in the morning rush hour period and northbound in the evening rush hour period. This isn’t convenient and forces many to drive from long distances.
Build new and upgrade MARC stations. Montgomery County has already planned for new MARC train stations at the Shady Grove Metro and White Flint area. Imagine a Shady Grove MARC train station that could easily allow riders to transfer to and from the Metro Red Line and a White Flint station to help anchor the creation of new housing and jobs. We can also make our existing stations better - including expanded parking options and direct bus service at Germantown, where parking often filled up quickly on mornings pre-pandemic26.
Virginia is investing $3.7 billion in revamping and expanding its Virginia Railway Express (VRE), including a new Long Bridge across the Potomac. This will allow for a one-seat trip from Boyds, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Kensington, Silver Spring to and through Union Station over the river to Arlington27.
We must better support the state elected officials pushing Maryland to make a similar investment in MARC service and work with a new governor to turn these ideas into a reality. In January 2022, the administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration told state legislators they are “constantly” talking to CSX - the freight train operator that owns the rails MARC travels on - about expanding MARC service28. This is encouraging news.
Montgomery County can help get the ball rolling by advancing special taxing districts around MARC Stations to provide funding for needed station improvements and service expansion.
The biggest obstacle that we face to improve our transportation system is how we pay for improvements. State and Federal funds from gas taxes are diminishing29 as vehicles have become more fuel efficient thanks to upgraded EPA fuel economy standards. And the new wave of zero-emission vehicles will make this system untenable going forward.
For county funding, we have been collecting impact taxes and fees from new developments for use in adding the transportation infrastructure needed for new residents. But we have not actually been applying all of those funds to transportation – that money has gone into our county’s general fund where it is often repurposed to other priorities.
Update our revenue sources. The time for dealing with funding is now. We must find a way to replace the outdated gasoline tax. For example, Northern Virginia has created a dedicated $300 million annual fund30 for reducing congestion in the region, resulting in dozens of new projects including rail, bus, highway, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure.
Prepare to utilize Federal and State infrastructure funding. We will ensure County projects eligible for new Federal and State funding are “shovel-ready” and best positioned to win these resources.
With a sustained proactive focus on sustainability, safety, and mobility, we can build a better transportation system for all. Read more about our vision for a better Montgomery County at blairformontgomery.com/vision.