- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002


Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan proposed yesterday that the county spend $1 billion over 10 years to ease traffic congestion, including restarting projects such as the Intercounty Connector (ICC) opposed by outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Mr. Duncan said that he would use county funds to bypass state and local opponents, who argue new roads will worsen suburban sprawl.

"Not only are we stuck in traffic gridlock, but we are stuck in political gridlock, as well. The time for talk has passed," Mr. Duncan said.

The project, dubbed "Go Montgomery" would split about 90 percent of the $1 billion almost evenly between mass transit and roads. The remaining 10 percent would be spent on pedestrian and traffic-safety projects.

Mr. Duncan said he will push the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the federal government and the state to spend $8 billion on transportation improvements in the region.

But some of the proposals are in direct opposition to the governor's transportation goals. For example, Mr. Duncan proposes an environmental study of a Metrorail track dubbed the Purple Line that would run outside the Capital Beltway.

In October, Mr. Glendening said Maryland would apply for federal transportation money to build the Purple Line inside the Capital Beltway. The state has already allocated $16 million to an environmental-impact study of the inner route, said Glendening spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.

"This is typical election-year dynamics," said Mrs. Byrnie, who added that Mr. Duncan was likely looking past Mr. Glendening, who leaves office at the end of the year.

The county is seen as one of the keys to winning the State House.

A study earlier this year by a Montgomery County Planning Board task force predicted the weekday rush hour on the Beltway could total 14 hours per week by 2020.

Area governments also risk losing federal transportation funding if vehicle-emissions levels surpass federal limits, which the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments predicts will happen in three years.

To help pay for the new projects, Mr. Duncan is asking the state and Montgomery County Council to raise taxes. His plan calls for a 3-cent increase in the property-tax rate, a $25 local vehicle-registration fee and a 10-cent increase in the state gasoline tax.

Getting the state to raise the gas tax could be difficult.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat, said yesterday that if she is elected governor in November, she would freeze spending at current levels in almost all areas of state government next year to deal with expected state budget shortfalls. Despite the financial crunch, Mrs. Townsend said taxes shouldn't be raised.

"I don't think right now is the right time," Mrs. Townsend said.

Paul Schurick, a spokesman for Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., said the Republican gubernatorial candidate was sympathetic to Mr. Duncan's position.

"The state's transportation system is broke. It needs to be fixed. Montgomery County roads need to be built, the mass-transit system need to be completed," he said.

"There's no point in having our heads in the sand on this. At some point, the gas tax will be raised. Bob is not in any way committing to raising the gas tax, but he is also facing the facts. If the roads and the transit system are going to be built to relieve traffic and they should be, they must be we've got to find the revenue to do it."

The plan is subject to the approval of the Montgomery County Council, which has opposed the ICC and an outside-the-Beltway route for the Purple Line.

Local groups favoring transit over roads applauded the public-transportation elements of Mr. Duncan's plan, but said it includes too much highway construction.

"Transit is here, but the balance is too much toward roads," said Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit.

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