Tag Archives: Ike Leggett

Ike Leggett’s Dump Fire

By Adam Pagnucco.

No one knows exactly when the worst dump fire in Montgomery County history started.  It was first reported to authorities on October 22, 1994.  A 40-foot high pile of trash at the Travilah Road dump had ignited and begun spreading airborne foulness throughout the vicinity.  The Washington City Paper reported, “The slow smolder spewed clouds of acrid smoke—filled with floating ashes and shreds of trash—and a putrid odor that engulfed the North Potomac area for miles around. The noxious fumes temporarily shut down Stone Mill Elementary School and forced residents from their homes; some had to take temporary refuge in motels.”  More than 200 people reported respiratory problems.

Incredibly, the county government did not act immediately to put the fire out.  Rather, it wanted dump owner Billy Mossburg and his family to put it out themselves despite their long history of bad blood with both the county and their neighbors.  The Washington Post reported, “The county doesn’t have the equipment to do the job, and it’s better for the company to spend its money under county supervision than for the county to spend tax money and bill Travilah Recovery later, said Capt. Ray Mulhall, a fire department spokesman.”  The county posted two environmental inspectors and three fire officials to the site to “ensure everything is done right.”

Internally, the administration of outgoing County Executive Neal Potter debated what to do.  Meetings of county officials went on for two hours or more without resolution.  Some in the administration worried about liability.  Others were concerned about who would pay to put out the fire.  Some worried about the difficulty of getting trucks into the dump or whether lights could be installed for night-time fire-fighting.  Just as a course of direction seemed in reach, someone would bring up more questions and the meetings would resume.  And the fire kept burning.

It was Paralysis by Analysis, then and now.

County Executive Ike Leggett has a dump fire, too.  It is otherwise known as the Department of Liquor Control (DLC).  Maligned for many years for its poor service to licensees and consumers, it was the subject of a landmark Washington City Paper story during Leggett’s first year in office.  The DLC is not a threat to public safety as Billy Mossburg’s dump once was.  But it chases away consumers, stunts the county’s restaurant industry and costs the county and state nearly $200 million a year in economic activity.  After a number of scandals including employee theft, employees drinking and driving on the job and use of an inventory system run with sticky notes, the County Council proposed a bill allowing private distributors to fulfill some special orders.  Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) went further, proposing a bill that would have allowed voters to decide whether to continue the liquor monopoly.  After initially supporting the council’s bill, Leggett opposed both of them and promised that he would fix the DLC through a task force.

The result of the task force?  Paralysis by Analysis, of course.  The task force’s eleven members included just two licensees and no consumers.  It had three meetings during which invited speakers extolled the benefits of government liquor monopolies.  It concluded with no task force statement and no proposal.  The administration completely ignored a proposal to recover DLC’s profits and pretended for months that the proposal never existed.  The Executive offered a tweak that no one else supported and later withdrew it, alleging that DLC’s problems were solved.  This is despite the fact that DLC suffered massive supply failures during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve week the prior two years.  On each occasion, Leggett defended the liquor monopoly just prior to its meltdowns.

The pattern here is the same as the reaction of County Executive Neal Potter to the Travilah dump fire.  Be cautious.  Worry about money.  Pretend that things aren’t so bad.  Play for time.  Maybe the problem will go away by itself.  Maybe public interest will move on to something else.

In the end, the Travilah dump fire was undone by an event it could not burn away: an election.  Incoming County Executive Doug Duncan raced from his inauguration directly to the Executive Office Building and demanded that county officials do everything possible to put out the fire.  Eight days later and roughly seven weeks after it was first reported, the fire was out.  The county later sued the dump owner to recover the cost of fighting the fire.

Here is the great lesson of the Travilah dump fire for today’s dump fire at the DLC.  Meetings and task forces won’t put it out.  Neither will consultants, financial analyses, promises, tweaks, defensive blog posts or PR campaigns.  One thing is needed to deal with the liquor monopoly.

Bold action.  From a new County Executive.

A Reply to the County Executive on the Liquor Monopoly

By Adam Pagnucco.

Thanks to County Executive Ike Leggett for responding to my post on how his administration ignored my proposal to make up revenue for the Department of Liquor Control (DLC).  I stand by my piece and reply to several of his points as follows.

1.  Contrary to the Executive’s contention, my proposal was in fact never analyzed during the time of the DLC task force.  His consultant’s report never mentions it despite the agreement of his staff to include it.  Try finding my proposal, my name, a reference to Seventh State or an analysis of my idea for using cable funds to finance DLC’s debt in the report.  They are simply not there.

2.  The Executive alleges that I made a “basic math mistake” by omitting DLC’s debt service from the revenue needing to be replaced.  Not at all.  Anyone reading my proposal can see that I did not omit it.  I simply dealt with it separately from the return DLC sends to the operating fund since the two revenue streams require different fixes.

3.  The Executive is correct that the state has imposed numerous unfunded mandates and fees on the counties in recent years.  I should know.  I helped organize a campaign against the teacher pension shift in 2012 that included county governments, school boards, community groups and elected officials in both parties.  But rather than merely complain about the state, let’s recognize that it has a role to play in dealing with the liquor monopoly and the revenue question since DLC was created in state law.  A visionary Executive with a plan to transition away from the liquor monopoly would be invaluable in securing the state’s cooperation.

4.  The Executive is wrong about my proposal to use cable funds to service DLC’s debt in two ways.  First, he claims that I proposed raising the 5% fee the county currently levies on cable bills.  That’s not what I said, and in any case, the fee is already at the maximum level allowed by federal law.  Second, he claims that “Cable fund money cannot legally be used for purposes other than cable-related needs: technology and communication purposes. We cannot take Cable Funds to build roads and schools.”  That is absolutely wrong.  The county’s own cable lawyer advised the County Council in 2012 that the county has discretion over how the 5% fees can be spent, but not on amounts collected over that level or on behalf of municipalities.  Those amounts not subject to county discretion were excluded from my analysis.  In fact, the Executive transfers some money from the cable fund to the general fund right now.  The approved FY17 budget states, “Funds are transferred from the Cable Fund to the General Fund to cover the cost of certain administrative services provided by the County to the Cable Fund ($654,353) and other contributions ($5,163,433).”  That’s right, folks, the Executive’s statement in his reply to us is contradicted by his own budget.

Why is the Executive so resistant to the idea of using cable funds for DLC’s debt service?  Perhaps one reason is because cable fees are the source of millions of dollars for County Cable Montgomery and Montgomery Community Media, two public “news” outlets that provide “coverage” for county elected officials.  Try to locate an unflattering “news” article about county elected officials in any of the “coverage” provided by these outlets.  Good luck finding any because one of them is part of county government and the other is a non-profit that gets more than 80% of its budget from the county.  What’s the better use for this money?  Financing Pravda-style public relations or helping to fix the liquor monopoly?

5.  The Executive notes that Worcester County’s former monopoly on spirits may be coming to an end.  He is probably right about that.  Worcester’s monopoly, while not including wine and beer as Montgomery’s does, did an even poorer job of customer service than MoCo and was busted by the Comptroller for breaking numerous laws in 2010.  After Worcester’s monopoly was opened to competition in 2014, the county lost 42% of its wholesale business after a year (while keeping 96% of its retail volume) and its leaders may decide to exit alcohol sales altogether.  But if they do so, it will be because they have decided they can’t compete with private distributors.

That seems to be the rationale the Executive has for shielding DLC from competition: since (in his view) it can’t compete, competition shouldn’t be allowed.  How is that a good thing for licensees and consumers?  Isn’t there a chance that open competition could cause DLC to improve while making private wholesalers pick up their game?

Also, the Executive says, “In the liquor business it is the suppliers/manufacturers who decide which ONE distributor/wholesaler will sell their products.”  That may be true under most circumstances in Maryland, but COMAR 03.02.01.12 exempts county liquor dispensaries from this arrangement.  In other words, state law allows manufacturers to sell to both county liquor sellers and private distributors.  That is what happens now.  In fact, DLC couldn’t exist without this exemption.  Competition between DLC and the private sector can occur if the state allows it.  The Executive simply opposes it.

The County Executive’s response shows that he is sensitive to criticism on this subject.  If only that were enough to make real progress on the county’s shameful liquor monopoly.

Setting the Record Straight

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive Ike Leggett has thrown in the towel on efforts to reform the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC).  We will have something to say about that soon.  But first, let’s address a claim the Executive has made in Bethesda Magazine: namely, that “the department’s critics have failed to put forth a proposal that included replacing the DLC’s profits.”

That is flat-out untrue.

On August 15, 2016, while the Executive’s DLC task force was meeting, your author posted a proposal on Seventh State for replacing DLC’s profits.  Our concept was to replace every dime of DLC’s net income with a combination of revenue sharing with the state, opening a few new liquor stores and financing the county’s liquor bonds with cable funds.  No new taxes or fees would be required.  In the email below, your author asked Bonnie Kirkland, the Executive Branch staffer running the task force, to have the proposal studied by the administration’s consultant.  Ms. Kirkland agreed to do that.  But the consultant’s report never examined our proposal and does not reference it at all.  And now the Executive claims that our proposal never existed.

Let’s give the Executive the benefit of the doubt.  No Executive is aware of every interaction his staff has with the public.  But it’s absolutely untrue that we had no proposal to replace DLC’s profits.  We did and we shared it with his staff.  It was simply ignored by his administration.

Below is the email exchange your author had with Ms. Kirkland as proof.  Let no one – not the Executive, not his staff, not anyone at the County Council and not anyone else – continue to claim that we presented no ideas for replacing DLC’s profits.

*****

From: Kirkland, Bonnie <Bonnie.Kirkland@montgomerycountymd.gov>

Sent: Thursday, September 1, 2016 3:47 PM

To: Pagnucco, Adam

Subject: Re: Proposal on liquor monopoly revenue

Adam – The proposal, along with the others, is under analysis by the consultant. They will present a preliminary report/analysis at the next meeting, September 15.

Bonnie

Sent from my iPhone

On Sep 1, 2016, at 2:28 PM, A P <acp1629@hotmail.com> wrote:

Hi Bonnie – have you had time to consider my request?  I believe it responds to the Executive’s view that he is prepared to depart from DLC’s monopoly status so long as the revenue gap is closed.  Adam

From: Bonnie.Kirkland@montgomerycountymd.gov

To: Acp1629@hotmail.com

Subject: RE: Proposal on liquor monopoly revenue

Date: Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:13:08 +0000

Adam – Yes, I did receive your email. I am currently out of the office and will respond as soon as possible.

Bonnie

From: A P [mailto:acp1629@hotmail.com]

Sent: Wednesday, August 17, 2016 1:02 PM

To: Kirkland, Bonnie <Bonnie.Kirkland@montgomerycountymd.gov>

Subject: FW: Proposal on liquor monopoly revenue

Hi Bonnie – did you receive this email?  And if so, can you confirm that this proposal will be analyzed along with the others in the course of the DLC task force’s deliberations?

Thank you,

Adam Pagnucco

From: acp1629@hotmail.com

To: mcvim@aol.com; dwayne.kratt@diageo.com; mdharting@venable.com; molly@allsetrestaurant.com; rneece@esopadvisors.com; mmendelevitz@esopadvisors.com; mbalcombe@ggchamber.org; ggodwin@mcccmd.com; gitaliano@bccchamber.org; jredicker@gsscc.org; chris.gillis@montgomerycountymd.gov; joel.polichene@rndc-usa.com; bob.mutschler@rndc-usa.com; tbeirne@wineinstitute.org; jen@pwrjmaryland.com; sidney.katz@montgomerycountymd.gov; lisa.mandel-trupp@montgomerycountymd.gov; neal.insley@nabca.org; steve.schmidt@nabca.org; hgaragiola@alexander-cleaver.com; robert.douglas@dlapiper.com; sfoster739@comcast.net; mthompson@marylandrestaurants.com; jason@capstrategies.net; ashlie.bagwell@mdlobbyist.com; mcarter@vsadc.com; proddy@rwlls.com; lobbyannapolis@verizon.net; amy.samman@montgomerycountymd.gov; fariba.kassiri@montgomerycountymd.gov; bonnie.kirkland@montgomerycountymd.gov; ginanne100@aol.com

Subject: Proposal on liquor monopoly revenue

Date: Mon, 15 Aug 2016 12:00:24 -0400

Hi Bonnie:

I am requesting that this proposal on how to deal with liquor monopoly revenue be considered by the administration as part of its DLC deliberations.

http://www.theseventhstate.com/?p=6987

Thank you,

Adam Pagnucco

Snowzilla Communication Breakdown

Thanks to Adam Pagnucco for this guest post:

Snowzilla has turned out to be a historic storm. Every local jurisdiction from the City of Baltimore to Northern Virginia has struggled to recover from it, and Montgomery County is no exception. While MoCo residents complain about the pace of snow removal, with and without justification, there is no evidence that the county has performed worse than comparable jurisdictions. But one area in which it has fallen short is communicating with its residents.

Most residents have one question on their minds: when can I escape from my neighborhood? Let’s be fair: during a mega-event like Snowzilla, that’s a really hard question to answer. The county is coordinating a large fleet of employees and contractors, as well as working with other agencies like the state, Metro, Park and Planning and MCPS. A great deal of the equipment being used is not GPS-enabled. The most honest answer is also the least satisfactory: we don’t know.

The county chose to rely on its snow removal map to deal with resident questions. The county’s Department of Transportation repeatedly directed residents to the map on Twitter.

MCDOT map tweet 1-23 MCDOT map tweet 1-25The problem is that the map wasn’t showing any useful information. Below is an image of the map as of Tuesday, January 26. The map shows that every county street in Glenmont, Wheaton and unincorporated Kensington was “in progress.” It showed similar information all over the county. That’s physically impossible. The county doesn’t have enough equipment to be everywhere at once and residents know that.

Snowmap 1-26-2016Faced with a non-functioning map, residents overwhelmed MC 311. Some called only to hear a recording. Even if they got through, no answers were available. Again, the county simply didn’t know when individual neighborhoods would be cleared, even though they claimed the map would say so.

Meanwhile, municipalities appeared to be doing a better job. Consider the Facebook posts of Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman. On Saturday, January 23, the Mayor reported that all city streets had received a first pass. He then reported that all streets would receive a second pass the following morning. This is a period during which county plows had not reached neighborhood streets at all. Residents of unincorporated areas, for which the county has responsibility, have friends in municipalities and were aware of their performance. This only increased their frustrations.

Jud first pass Jud second passCouncil Member Hans Riemer (my former employer) nailed it in a post on Facebook. Noting his work on securing funding for an upgraded snow map and planning for pedestrian mobility during snow storms, he wrote: “Better communications technology would save our residents a lot of anxiety during snow events, and enable them to more adequately plan for their work and family lives. If technology answered more questions, it would also take pressure off of our 311 call center, which has been completely overwhelmed by the volume of calls they’ve received during this storm.” And he’s absolutely right.

Hans snowSnowzilla was a gigantic storm and public employees across the region deserve tremendous credit for their recovery efforts. But MoCo had a communication breakdown that made a stressful event worse. Here’s hoping that Council Member Riemer and his colleagues can help the county prepare to do better next time.

Prince George’s Out Negotiates Montgomery

As explained previously on 7S, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker played hard to get on ponying up additional funds for the Purple Line in an effort to set up his County to extract concessions in price and other matters. Turns out he succeeded at both:

Prince George’s County has tentatively agreed to commit an additional $20 million to finance the Purple Line in exchange for assurances from state transportation officials that construction will begin within its borders and the command center be built there, a top aide to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said Thursday. . . .

“I agree to accomplish each of these requests,” [Transportation Secretary] Rahn replied in an Aug. 12 letter to Baker.

Montgomery agreed to pay $40 million in additional costs and received nothing.

Baker negotiated a better deal than Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett or Council President George Leventhal. His County will pay half as much in additional costs, obtain more, and still have the light-rail project he supported move forward.

Baker and Leggett on Race and Endorsements

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker got asked essentially why he, as an African-American leader, endorsed a white man over a black woman for U.S. Senate. Baker responded well and then Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett jumped in to give an exceptionally eloquent statement:

Regardless of whether you prefer Van Hollen, Edwards, or someone else, their answers as to why they support Chris Van Hollen speak to the content of both of these gentlemen’s character.

Why No MoCo Transit Authority

brt-photo1

Bus-Rapid Transit

Only a few days after I wrote a post outlining County Executive Ike Leggett’s proposal to create an Independent Transit Authority (ITA) for Montgomery County, the state legislative bill towards that end was withdrawn at his request as it didn’t seem likely to pass.

While MCGEO’s Gino Renne would probably like to think that the bizarre circus he created around the bill’s hearing, analyzed yesterday (“Ready for His Closeup”), had a lot to do with it–and it didn’t help–ultimately many other factors played a far greater role in the decision not to move forward now.

Playing Captain Hindsight and analyzing what went wrong is sometimes a little frustrating to those involved. Still, analysis can serve as food for thought for next time, not a bad idea since Tom Street in Ike Leggett’s office told me that the County Executive hasn’t given up yet: “He is soliciting ideas and alternatives but still believes, absent hearing about anything better, that he has the right approach.”

The Process

At the hearing, there was much outrage expressed about the political process. Except that this is the normal process for how bills become laws. The General Assembly meets only for 90 days every year and a lot has to get done in the session. Late-filed bills occur in every session and the hearing was moved to Rockville from Annapolis to make public input easier.

Many often complain that the state legislative delegation doesn’t work well with the County government. In this case, the delegation responded quickly to a request from the County Executive, who was just reelected to a third term, to aid with a top priority.

Nonetheless, the Executive needed to think more about the unofficial process (i.e. do more to get his ducks in a row in advance). Though many people testified in favor of the bill, they were for the bill rather than FOR the bill.

If there were clarion calls from the organizations that should emphatically favor this legislation (e.g. Action Committee for Transit), I sure didn’t hear them. More consultation with key players probably would have served the Executive well.

Executive Leadership

County Executive Ike Leggett deserves credit for getting the discussion started on an ITA. While not without drawbacks, it provides a means for Montgomery to move forward in a meaningful way on its transportation priorities and to make sure that tax dollars for the purpose stay in Montgomery.

Nonetheless, the WaPo editorial lauding the County Executive for his leadership  doesn’t mention that he walked out of the hearing early without talking to any of his constituents as he departed. County Executive Leggett normally excels at listening–a key part of the job–so I was surprised to hear this. If he wants something of this magnitude that will inevitably engender some controversy, he needs to be willing to stand his ground and argue for it.

To Do What?

More needed to be done to outline specifically the intended purpose of the ITA with various ideas floated. While the County Executive  proposed this with something in mind, it was not made sufficiently clear to the public.

He needs to outline for the community what he wants to do. In particular, he should explain that we need to build the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT)–already advanced into the design phase–and one other BRT line in the network approved in the County Master Plan as a demonstration project before doing the rest of the planned system.

The CCT is widely supported and will give the County a real economic boost. As Tom Street explained: “The CCT has more documented job creation potential than any other proposed transit project in the County. It is a very high priority for the Executive.”

Additionally, the Viers Mill BRT route provokes less controversy than others as most of it can be built in the median. The operation of one line will likely help answer questions many residents have regarding a mode of transit new to them.

The Business Community

The business community is hesitant to get fully behind an ITA because, like everyone else, they don’t want to pay and balk when asked to trust the tender mercies of the County Council on the amount. But business would be more supportive of a finite amount utilized to build projects that it wants.

One potential solution would be to create special tax districts geared toward capturing revenue from commercial landowners who stand to benefit tremendously from this project to provide the capital needed for construction but not operating costs. The county already has the authority to do this without an ITA.

These tax districts would shift capital costs away from residents, which they would like, towards commercial beneficiaries. Capping the costs at capital expenditures would reassure business, however, that they are not on the hook for unlimited amounts.

Residents and the Charter Limit

Montgomery County currently charges the highest property tax and highest income tax legally permitted. Residents are naturally suspicious when asked to pay more. Their suspicions rise even further when shifting expenses from the current budget to the ITA would allow more spending in other areas than possible under the current Charter limit.

The County Executive will never assuage all concerns. Some will oppose all taxes and just don’t want any BRT lines. But there are steps he could take to build greater trust with the public. Making clearer the purpose of the ITA in conjunction with the County Council would be a good start.

Additionally, any tax expenditures shifted over from the budget to the ITA–for example, if the ITA managed the Ride-On system– should still continue to count towards the Charter limit. This should reduce concern that the ITA is simply a ruse to raise spending on non-transportation measures.

The taxes designated for the ITA should also focus on operating rather than capital expenditures. If special tax districts targeted at business pay for most of the capital costs, it is easier to make the case that we should then pay to maintain this infrastructure. It would also reduce the new taxes required from residents.

County Council Leadership

The Executive and the County Council could have worked more closely together with the Council signally support by vocally backing a proposal earlier. This time, the Council appeared to lead from behind and to distance themselves from the ITA proposal.

Council President George Leventhal projects himself as a transit leader despite his tepid support for BRT. But he missed a real opportunity to take a leadership role here in crafting a proposal and building support. The Council President should take the lead with County Executive Leggett to present a united proposal.

Both could then claim credit for having moved Montgomery off the dime on public transit. The Council has a key role to play here due its extensive authority and because its commitments are critical to establishing support from key players.

Alternatively, the Council could find the means to construct the Viers Mill BRT line within its existing budget as an initial more affordable step toward building a larger system.

 

Silver Spring Transit Center Costs Up 17.5%

Silver Spring Transit Center 2

The Washington Post reports that the costs of the Silver Spring Transit Center are up by $21 million, or 17.5%. Still no opening date scheduled for this highly complex transportation hub, which was discovered to be unsafe after it was built.

Councilmembers continue to blame the County Executive who blames the project designer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and contractor, Foulger-Pratt. Nevertheless, Council President George Leventhal says councilmembers will “hold our noses and vote for” County Executive Leggett’s request.

Somehow, I don’t think it comforts anyone about the loss of another $21 million or the County’s management of the project that the Council President is holding his nose. While both the Executive and the Council promise that taxpayers won’t have to pay for the increase, it remains to be seen if all or a portion of the expense can be extracted from Parsons-Brinckerhoff and Foulger-Pratt.

Same Firm Involved in the Purple Line

Parsons-Brinckerhoff also estimated the ridership data for the Purple Line, a project George Leventhal supports. However, the firm still is hiding how it calculated ridership in response to public requests. (see here and here). In light of these past problems, this lack of transparency and the lack of demands for it by the State or the County is not encouraging.

Any unforeseen increases in costs for the Purple Line would not be born by the Parsons-Brinckerhoff or the federal government. Hopefully, the County will get the designer to pay for the cost increases in the Silver Spring Transit Center. Right now, however, County taxpayers are footing the bill with the money lost to other needed County infrastructure projects.

 

WABA Launches Petition to Save Tunnel

From the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) blog:

Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.

WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most traveled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail. . . .

WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.

We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.

WABA Petition

Purple Line Station Downgrade, No Tunnel Under Wisc. Ave.

In closed session yesterday, the Montgomery County Council concurred with the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett and decided not to go move forward with the funding to facilitate redevelopment of the APEX building and a much improved Purple Line stop in Bethesda.

The Council had already greatly expanded the size of the building that could be built on the spot in the hopes of enticing the owner to redevelop or to sell to a developer. However, they balked at agreement with the roughly $70 million in costs to the County to facilitate the deal and make it economically feasible.

There are three major effects of this decision:

Less Well-Designed Purple Line Station

The Maryland Transportation Administration (MTA) had pressed the County to move forward with the APEX acquisition to allow construction of a well-designed Purple Line station. While the State now claims that the new station, projected to handle around 24,000 trips per day, will still be adequate, the failure to acquire the building requires major changes.

Passengers will need to cross the tracks–something MTA previously described as problematic but now says will be alright. Additionally, one of the platforms will have to be much smaller and the ease of accessibility to the system will decline. There will still be elevator banks for direct Purple to Red Line connections, though the entrances will need to be moved.

No Tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue

People wanting to continue on the much-used Capital Crescent Trail will have to make their crossing of Wisconsin Ave. at grade. Currently, there is a wide tunnel under the Air Rights Building that facilitates bike trips under Wisconsin Ave.

The original plans promised a new smaller tunnel under the Air Rights Building in tandem with the new Purple Line. This promise  evaporated after the project had moved on to a later stage when it became deemed to expensive.

Hope for the tunnel reemerged with the redevelopment of the APEX building. Indeed, Montgomery County government leaders expressed greater enthusiasm for the tunnel, most recently at a publicly televised debate before the Democratic primary.

The lack of a grade separated bicycle crossing will also likely anger area bicyclists concerned not just about ease of travel but public safety. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA),  has predicated its strong support on grade-separated crossings of major thoroughfares along the trail.

Less Development at APEX Site

One of the major goals of the construction of the Purple Line has been to stimulate development and economic growth, crucial to expanding the County’s tax base to pay to maintain infrastructure and services.

It will be more difficult and therefore much more expensive to tear down and construct a new larger building on the APEX site after the construction of the new Purple Line stop. As a result, it may never happen. Any redevelopment would be pushed much further into the future until (if ever) it become a profitable venture.

Conclusion

The developers working to arrange the deal (i.e. the purchase of the building from the current owners and money need to render its redevelopment economically feasible) could come back with a better set of numbers. So maybe it will all work out.

Right now, however, the County will be left will a Purple Line stop described to me as “adequate” or “functional” at best at its critical terminus and economic engine in Bethesda. It does nothing for trust in government, due to repeated broken promises from both MTA and the County over the tunnel and the politically convenient timing of these decisions.