Category Archives: Montgomery County Planning Board

Planning Board Chairman casey anderson calls county exec. Marc elrich’s idea “Dumb”

Though he doesn’t say his name, Planning Board Chairman Casey Anderson disparaged County Executive Marc Elrich at the Board’s Thrive Montgomery meeting, saying it was a “dumb idea” for Elrich to suggest that the Purple Line be single tracked under Wisconsin Ave. to save money. Just to make it extra clear who he is thinking isn’t too bright, Anderson references an Elrich proposal from 2009.

Only the discussion doesn’t make clear that the idea now is simply to single track under Wisconsin Ave.–a distance of 900 feet–to save money rather than all the way from Bethesda to around Connecticut Ave. as in the idea from over a decade ago. [Note: The Purple Line was originally planned as entirely single track.]

No discussion of the merits of the idea occurs. Nor does the Planning Board Chairman suggest a means to fund this expensive project. Anderson’s comments would likely have been even worse if a planning board staffer had not cut him off in the midst of another negative comment.

When asked for comment, Chairman Anderson said:

Well, I said it, and if I had it to do over again I might say it’s a bad idea, or even a terrible idea, but whatever word is used to describe it the fact is that It was suggested in 2009 and rejected for reasons that were pretty obvious at the time and I don’t think it has improved with age.

Not exactly an apology. Even worse, it reiterates the false claim that this is the same as the 2009 proposal. It’s not. The 2009 proposal planned for single-tracking over a much longer distance, so I queried: “Except that Elrich’s proposal in 2009 had a single track to CT—not just under Wisconsin—so that’s not true, right?” Anderson texted back:

It’s pretty obvious that it creates the same problem – single tracking limits the ability to improve frequency of service because it limits the number of trains you can run. In places where it’s been tried the result has been to come back later and make expensive fixes to add back the second track.

Except that what’s more far obvious is that single-tracking over a very short distance at the end of the line could well have quite different effects than doing the same over a much longer distance. It’s a very strong, unsupported assumption in service to his preferences. More to the point, repeatedly stating that the two proposals are the same is not playing straight with the public.

Around the same time as I heard back from Anderson, I also received a comment from County Executive Elrich:

Not quite sure what Casey’s referring to but when it was first suggested, the single track went all the way to the country club. We’re talking about pulling into and out of the station on a single track. It’s nine hundred feet – a fraction of the distance to the country club. And the trains have to switch tracks over there any way because the train entering on the westbound track has to leave on the eastbound track.

At the headway’s the system uses, there’s no way that two trains would conflict and there would be no bottleneck or degradation in service. It would save $50 million that could be spent on other important things. And without a second track you get a nice wide path.

Of course, the state would have to study it, I can’t mandate it, so we’ll see if it works. And if it does, why would a sane person say no. In the meantime his policies of developer giveaways is wrecking our ability to build the capital projects we need. Which schools, libraries, or public facilities should we kill to spend $50 million on a 500 ft tunnel if you can solve the problem and get the project done faster for far less cost. I’m trying to get it done quickly, without damaging our budget.

I don’t think many would contest that the two-track tunnel would be better. The question that Elrich raises is whether it’s worth studying the alternative in light of other pressing needs demanding the county’s scarce capital dollars. He also points out, correctly, that we’d get a much better bike path and trail through the tunnel.

Bottom Line: The public contempt by the Planning Board Chairman for an idea proposed by the County Executive to deal with the decline in projected capital funds is irresponsible and inappropriate for an official chairing a public meeting. Indeed, it’s the sort of remark that the Council reacted to sharply when Elrich said something similarly tactless–and, unlike Elrich, Anderson knew he was being taped.

What’s even worse, however, is intentionally misleading the public into believing that Elrich’s current proposal for single tracking just under Wisconsin had been studied when he could have simply said that he didn’t think it is a good idea. The Planning Board Chair should not misrepresent facts. It undermines the public trust.

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Lucrative Waiver to Chevy Chase Land Company Scrutinized

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post from Del. Al Carr (D-18) on an issue that the Planning Board is taking up today.

The Montgomery County Council approved the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan in 2013 after a lengthy process of gathering public input.

The plan contains environmental provisions requiring developers to restore the local tree canopy which has been ravaged over the years by road construction, development, Pepco, and clear cutting for the Purple Line. It requires that utility wires be buried allowing for the planting of large overstory trees. A healthy tree canopy is vital to protecting water quality in Rock Creek and its tributaries.

Unfortunately, the Montgomery County Planning Board quietly waived these environmental provisions for the well-connected developer in 2017. The developer successfully lobbied to be released from the requirement to bury the wires on the east side of Connecticut Ave. As a result, the developer is not planting tall overstory street trees on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd to maximize the restoration of the tree canopy.

In the 2017 staff report, planning staff used the following rationale when recommending the waiver: “Although undergrounding of utilities is typically required for site plan applications in Chevy Chase  Lake Sector Plan area, this application is not required to do so because the electrical utilities along the property frontage are high-voltage transmission lines that are not routinely buried.”

However the exact same “high-voltage transmission line” was recently buried immediately to the south where the purple line bridge will cross Connecticut Ave. Identical lines are routinely being buried in the county including in Silver Spring (Linden to Sligo project) and in White Flint (new substation).

There is a long-shot opportunity to correct this mistake when that same developer returns to the Planning Board on July 23rd for amendments to their plan. The Planning Board has the opportunity at that meeting to mandate that the wires be buried at the developer’s expense and that tall overstory trees be planted where possible along the site frontage on Connecticut Ave and Manor Rd.

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