Tag Archives: Purple Line

BREAKING: Brookeville to Open Montgomery’s First Casino

brookeville-acadBrookeville Academy

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s discovery that the Town of Brookeville owes $7.2 million to the State of Maryland due to his office’s miscalculation of municipal tax receipts for many years placed the Town in quite a bind, as the municipality of just 134 souls had no idea how it could repay the debt.

Today, Brookeville Commission President Katherine Farquhar announced that, after working on the issue with the County and the State, Brookeville will open a casino in historic Brookeville Academy (pictured above), which is owned by the Town, to raise monies to pay off the debt to the State.

Franchot praised the decision, stating that he “appreciates the Town’s gratitude to my office for finding the errors” and plans to award the Town the Comptroller’s Medal for its “creative solution” to the Town’s financial difficulties.

Members of the County Council had initially expressed concerns regarding the project. But Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) has now announced that the casino will be the first recipient of the microloan program he has advertised on Facebook in anticipation of his 2018 County Executive bid.

In a press release, Berliner said “I’m so pleased that the microloan program will make the casino possible. It will help jump start Federal Realty’s development of the outbuildings for future expansion, showing the importance of partnerships like these.”

After initial opposition, Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5) came on board once the Town agreed to hire MCGEO workers transferred from county liquor stores. “They know as much about gaming as beer, wine and liquor, so this is a great opportunity,” said MCGEO President Gino Renne.

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gigi Godwin agreed with the union president, as she commended the County for brushing aside development concerns with the adoption of a special Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) over the objection of the Civic Federation. “We need the County to take a more proactive approach on business.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) also applauded the project, saying that he was happy to learn that Brookeville “is open to serving craft beers” that an official taskforce determined were crucial to revitalizing nightlife in the County.

The sole casino opponent, Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL), pointed out that Georgia Ave. is already a parking lot and that the development violated County traffic tests. His statement was interrupted by George Leventhal, who brusquely asked Elrich “Why do you care about people coming from Howard County? Haven’t you figured out we ignore you yet?”

In contrast, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-AL) expressed optimism regarding transportation: “SafeTrack has been such a success. We should use the projected savings on Metro to initiate a study on extending the Purple Line to Brookeville.”

The casino will have a War of 1812 theme, reflecting Brookeville’s role as the “U.S. Capital for a Day” in 1814 during the British occupation of Washington. The building’s exterior will be preserved as the interior is redesigned in a “modern Madisionian” style.

(P.S. I think most have figured out by now, but yes, this is satire. Happy New Year.)

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Transit-Oriented Development? LOL.

The first Purple Line associated development project is going up and –surprise–is about development rather than transit-oriented development. At Chevy Chase Lake, EYA is building  “62 stately” “luxury elevator townhomes” that start at $1.5 million. All will have two car garages.

Why the two car garages if everyone is going to be riding the Purple Line? Unless you think elevators count, that sure doesn’t sound like transit-oriented development, and surely places into question claims that ridership of people who live near Purple Line stations will be unusually high.

Despite the claims that the Purple Line would increase affordable housing in Chevy Chase, even as quite a few existing affordable housing units get knocked down, this development is not about that goal either. I suppose one can make the trickle-down development argument that increasing supply will lower the price–not one usually associated with progressives who support the project. But we could have done that without billions on the Purple Line.

What is this really about? Thanks to our public subsidy, the owners and developers of the land can build more and make a tidy profit on the roughly $100 million for which they intend to sell the units, which will be valued for their close-in location to DC, proximity to Bethesda and Silver Spring and good school district more than the pricey Purple Line. Accompanied by some shops, I imagine it will be a very nice place to live.

Attracting more wealthy taxpayers and raising the value of the land will also increase the County tax base–good for the County and its economic health. The irony, of course, is that in the future many of the same people who supported the Purple Line as a “social justice” measure will use undoubtedly use this development as an example of the growing economic divide in the County even though the policies they supported made this happen.

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Metro Ridership Down Another 5% Last Year–Now at 2004 Levels

metro ridership

Metro ridership is down 5% over last year. As Metro did not project this decline, this means that Metro faces a substantial budget shortfall of $15 million from the decline in rail revenue and $5 million in bus revenue. Yet, Metro plans to add another 59 employees to the system.

If it raises fares, ridership will decline even further. Metro also needs to spend money on the rail system, as its reliability still seemingly continues to decline on a near daily basis. People don’t want to ride a system that is undependable.

Bringing it home to Maryland, it would be interesting to know how many few people are boarding or alighting at Maryland Metro stops. Additionally, how does the steady decline in ridership affect the projections for Purple Line ridership, as many of its passengers are expected to change to the Red or Orange Lines?

boardings

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Gloom from Floreen and Leventhal

Though Montgomery County Councilmembers George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen voted for the County’s bus-rapid transit (BRT) plan, both poured lots of cold water on the idea at a transit symposium at White Flint recently. In the process, both made statements that would likely surprise County voters regarding future taxes and spending.

Annual Purple Line Operation Payment?

Councilmember Nancy Floreen mentioned that that Montgomery County might have to make an annual payment toward the operational costs of the Purple Line. This ongoing cost would be in addition to the millions that the County has pledged to the light rail line’s construction. News to me, and suspect others, who expected the State to cover these costs.

Taxes Headed Up

Councilmember George Leventhal said that County Executive Ike Leggett would propose a “massive” tax increase in the forthcoming year just to meet current commitments in the context of explaining why he believes that the BRT system is not affordable.

Leventhal Makes Anti-Purple Line Arguments

Weirdly, George then went on to make a string of arguments frequently used against the Purple Line . . . but against bus-rapid transit. The concern about cost was particularly bizarre as BRT is far cheaper than light rail.

George also explained that we could not be sure that the hoped for development would come if we built BRT. Though the Purple Line entails much greater financial risk, George has brushed aside concerns regarding his favored project.

Perhaps most oddly, George argued the incompetence surrounding the Silver Spring Transit Center meant that people would not trust the County to build and operate BRT. Additionally, he explained that all of the trees that would be torn down and construction associated with the Purple Line would further turn people against transit.

Not exactly a vote of confidence in the County’s government and strange since BRT entails much less risk for more gain than the Purple Line. Why did George or Nancy vote for the plan that they now are now publicly undermining in the first place?

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Reporters v. Data: Millennials Edition

On March 29, the Washington Post published yet another of many stories on how millennials love the city and hate the suburbs:

Transit-centric millennials . . . who were born between 1980 and the early 2000s, are causing angst in traditionally car-dominant suburbs such as Montgomery County. Suburbs nationwide have long lured companies — and the high-skilled workers they seek to attract — with good schools, relatively low crime and spacious corporate campuses surrounded by vast parking lots near major highways.

A realization is growing among those communities’ business and civic leaders that the traditional suburban brand needs an overhaul.

The story had several anecdotes but had no actual data to support its conclusion that people are no longer moving to the suburbs. One reason for that omission is that it isn’t true, as reported on FiveThirtyEight:

According to U.S. Census Bureau data released this week, 529,000 Americans ages 25 to 29 moved from cities out to the suburbs in 2014; only 426,000 moved in the other direction. Among younger millennials, those in their early 20s, the trend was even starker: 721,000 moved out of the city, compared with 554,000 who moved in.1 Somewhat more people in both age groups currently live in the suburbs than in the city.

Indeed, for all the talk of the rebirth of American cities, the draw of the suburbs remains powerful. Across all ages, races, incomes and education groups, more Americans are still moving out of cities than in. (Urban populations are still growing, but because of births and immigration, not internal migration.)

There have been some important changes but they’re about delaying moves to the suburbs

The common narrative isn’t entirely wrong about the long-term trend lines. Millennials are moving to the suburbs at a much lower rate than past generations did at the same age. In the mid-1990s, people ages 25 to 29 were twice as likely to move from the city to the suburbs as vice versa. Today, they’re only about a quarter more likely. But even that slowdown appears to be mostly about people delaying their move to the suburbs, not forgoing it entirely. Today’s 30- to 44-year-olds are actually heading for the suburbs at a significantly faster rate than in the 1990s.

And the move to the suburbs isn’t being driven by moves to new urban areas like Bethesda and Silver Spring. The home with a yard for the kids to play remains popular. Indeed, the exurbs are still the fastest growing areas:

But a survey released earlier this year found that most millennials still want a traditional suburban experience, complete with big single-family homes. The American Community Survey, which provides a more granular look than the data released this week, tells much the same story, said Jed Kolko, chief economist of the real estate site Trulia.

“The fastest population growth right now is in the lowest-density neighborhoods, the suburb-iest suburbs,” Kolko said.

FiveThirtyEight hypothesizes why this story has gained traction even though it’s not true:

So why has the “city-loving millennials” story gained so much traction? Kolko has a theory: As American cities have become safer and more expensive, they have become increasingly dominated by the affluent and well-educated — exactly the people who drive the media narrative.

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Leaping Forward with Public Transit

leapThe Washington Post has a fascinating article on how technology is ripe to disrupt public transport just like it did for taxis with the arrival of Uber and Lyft:

The new venture-backed private transportation service Leap began offering rides in San Francisco last week in a swanky shuttle meant to feel “more like a living room than a bus.” A ride with the service, which costs $6 one-way or $5 in bulk, comes with WiFi, USB ports, a laptop bar and locally made pressed juices (for sale on board, that is).

Public transit is ripe for disruption — that’s why investors are backing these ideas. If you were to look around any city and try to identify a problem in need of lucrative new solutions that emerging technology might provide, the dreaded commute is an obvious one. Public transit can be inefficient, unpredictable, slow, crowded, or on its worse days downright broken. Transit needs a shakeup.

The fear is that new service would be only for the wealthy. From Anacostia, current Metro peak fares to Farragut West are $2.50, and $5.00 per day, probably cheaper than Leap. On the other hand, peak fare from Shady Grove to Metro Center is already $5.90 each way during peak hours. If you need to park, the daily cost rises to $16.90. So the difference in price in our area is cloudy, especially if competition enters into the game.

Government heavily subsidizes government-provided public transit and could subsidize rides for shuttles. Except that these subsidies could be targeted directly a lower income riders rather than to everyone regardless of income. Considering the cost of the DC Streetcar, Purple Line, and Baltimore Red Line, it would a lot cheaper.

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MTA Financial Fail

This one is going to cost us way more than Charlie’s proverbial nickel. The Baltimore Sun reports:

The Maryland Transit Administration failed to verify the accuracy of millions of dollars in contractor-submitted architectural and engineering costs for the Red and Purple light rail lines, according to a state audit released Monday.

The unverified labor bills from four contractor groups hired to work on the two pending transit lines, scheduled for Baltimore and the Washington suburbs, respectively, account for or relate to $232.8 million in overall costs under the multibillion-dollar projects, the audit found.

And we ought to be concerned that the accuracy of expenditures were not verified because:

The joint ventures were originally awarded contracts not to exceed $280 million, but the value of those contracts was increased in July 2013 to $547.1 million, the audit found.

The lack of checks on expenditures has led to waste such as:

• $10 million in overpayments to Mobility Paratransit Program vendors for fuel.

• Nearly $500,000 in payments of excise tax on fuel that the agency is exempt from paying.

This no worries attitude is especially shocking because one of the major firms involved in the project–Parsons Brinckerhoff–also played a key role in designing the fiasco known as the Silver Spring Transit Center.

Failing Disabled Marylanders

The audit further legitimated claims by disability rights advocates that MTA is failing them::

The audit also found the agency failed to properly oversee eligibility for its mobility program, something advocates for people with disabilities also alleged in a lawsuit recently filed against the agency.

MTA does not contest the audit’s results.

Accountability

Who in MTA is responsible? Will anyone be held accountable for this two-fold scandal–not just waste of public funds but failure even to keep track of how they are being spent?

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Greater Greater Replies

Between the ad hominem snarks at me and Chevy Chase, Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert has a cogent response to my critique. Read it to check out their point of view on my recent series.

Ironically, the demonization of Chevy Chase just demonstrates vividly what I wrote about earlier today in terms of GGW’s negative view toward existing communities. Rather than assuming that reasonable people can and do disagree, this is the standard approach taken by GGW to dissenters.

My objections to the Purple Line are hardly a secret as I’ve written about it many times on this blog. You’d never know from reading GGW, but I don’t belong to a country club, my home won’t be affected by the Purple Line, and I very much favor smarter smart growth–the final upcoming portion of the series.

So why do I object to it? It’s far too expensive. The costs keep rising suspiciously fast, it places the State’s credit rating at risk, and the ridership numbers calculation remain a secret. The BRT alternative would capture almost all of the benefit at much less cost. This leaves more money for other projects–liking fixing Metro–which sounds like a good deal to me. Most of the planned development will occur even if no version of the line is every built. And this transit line will do nothing for traffic.

It’s more environmentally harmful than the alternatives. The trains will actually generate more greenhouse gases than the cars they replace. It will destroy the Capital Crescent Trail east of Bethesda by turning it into a narrow treeless bike path between sound walls and and the Purple Line.

But hey, it’s a free country. GGW is entitled to their view. Even if sometimes unpleasant, debate is healthy because it informs people and improves the decision-making process.

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Traffic Keeps Growing, So Why Has Greater Greater Washington’s Agenda Stalled?

Metro Declines

Declines in Metro Ridership (Source: Unsuck DC Metro)

While Part I (“They’ve Come Undone: The Demise of the Greater Greater Washington Agenda“) overviewed the recent collapse of many plans to build new streetcar and light-rail lines across the region, today I look at why this happened.

Metro

The Metro system used to be Washington’s pride and joy. It is clean, well-designed and feels not just less dangerous but a cut above most other systems. The National Airport stop is easy and a dream location. It rightly became a key part of the identity of what it means to be a Washingtonian for many.

But Metro’s once sterling reputation now lies in tatters. While it’s still clean and well-designed, it is no longer reliable–the critical element for any transit system. The litany of complaints is well known. The escalators are perpetually broken–I can’t recall the last time they were all simultaneously working in Bethesda.

Single tracking on weekends is now the norm, so many are reluctant to ride it during these periods. Dr. Gridlock seems to oddly celebrate when only a few lines are doing it. Even during normal service, trains increasingly don’t keep to their schedules. The tragic 2009 train collision and recent death from smoke inhalation of a woman trapped on a train stopped in a tunnel have heightened safety concerns.

The key problem, however, for streetcar and light-rail proposals is that the situation is not getting better. All of the concerns outlined here have persisted for years. Twitter feeds and blogs like Unsuck DC Metro that would have once been unimaginable now have very large followings that naturally take a more jaundiced view of new transit projects proposed by Greater Greater Washington.

People are voting with their feet. In Silver Spring, average weekday boardings in 2014 were down to 13% from 2008. They’re also down 14% in New Carrollton, though decreased less at 8% at Shady Grove and even in Bethesda. Metro ridership is down so much despite strong population increases that it will be below its high point even with the addition of new Silver Line stops.

People wonder not just why we are building new transit lines when the old one needs fixing but why we should trust our local governments to run and to manage them. These new proposals would be in much better shape if Metro worked.

Cost

Streetcars and light rail are very expensive and governments have many transportation needs. Arlington’s cancelled street car would have cost $550 million. In Maryland, the proposed light-rail Purple Line is $2.4 billion and the Red Line clocks in at $2.9 billion.

Moreover, the costs keep rising in manner that makes many (rightly) suspicious and leery. As Metro has taught us, these projects have to be both operated and maintained.

While some may want to kill off all public transit projects, others seem reluctant to apply reasonable cost-benefit analysis to these projects in their eagerness for the project. Critics have homed in on these problems. In DC, the (permanently?) delayed streetcar was projected to carry 1500 people per day–even as it slows down the buses on a similar route that already carry 12,000.

More in Part III.

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They’ve Come Undone: The Demise of the Greater Greater Washington Agenda

baltwash2

Greater Greater Washington’s Fading Dream

Greater Greater Washington (GGW) is one of the Washington metropolitan area’s best and most influential blogs. Geared towards promoting smart growth, it provides a wealth of information. Even people who disagree with their perspective will still find lots of interesting nuggets of information.

But where it leads, Washington isn’t following.

Central to the GGW agenda is the construction of a number of high profile new public transportation projects. Since the high point of the opening of Metro’s Silver Line, however, things appear to have gone off the rails. The area has begun to reject key components of GGW’s vision. Consider:

(1) Arlington has cancelled its two proposed $550 million streetcar projects after an election in which they were front and center. This liberal bastion voted twice for independent John Vilstadt–the first non-Democratic member of the county’s board in 15 years–as a means of saying no to the projects. After the election, the board voted 4-1 to scrap the projects.

(2) Former Washington Mayor Vincent Gray envisioned a 37-mile streetcar network. In May, however, the City Council voted to shift one-half of the monies budgeted for the streetcar to tax cuts. In October, the Council then “radically scaled back” the planned 20-mile streetcar network to just eight miles.

Many wonder whether even the repeatedly delayed inaugural 2.2 mile streetcar line, described as an unworkabletrainwreck,” will ever open. One of the very first decisions of Mayor Muriel Bowser was to delay its opening and review its operational plans. Read: the Mayor wanted to avoid a fiasco in her first month as mayor.

(3) In Maryland, the light rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs and the Red Line in Baltimore are all but dead. In November, the State rejected light-rail proponent Anthony Brown and voted in Gov. Larry Hogan, who would prefer to build roads and is highly suspicious of the costly $2.4 billion Purple Line and $2.9 billion Red Line.

Supporters hold out hope the Governor will build them and Maryland’s new Transportation Secretary says he has an open mind. But it makes zero political sense–Brown’s former supporters will never vote for Hogan and he’ll tick off his own base while reducing his ability to spend money on his own priorities.

In any case, most Prince George’s legislators are far more focused on a hospital and ready to see the Purple Line go. Upcounty Montgomery legislators and the County Executive are increasingly focused on protecting the cheaper and less controversial Corridor Cities Transitway.

Expect the bodies to be carted away once the General Assembly leaves Annapolis and the Governor can avoid a confrontation with legislators as they grapple with the budget.

(4) A core belief of GGW smart growthers is that parking lots are bad, as we should walk, bike, or use public transit. Yet the avowedly pro-smart growth Montgomery County Council is building tons of new parking–particularly in transit-oriented high density developments–in tacit acknowledgement of the reality that they expect most people are still going to drive.

In downtown Bethesda, a spanking new lot with over 750 new public spaces (with additional spaces slated for the apartments being constructed above) just opened. The new high density transit accessible North Bethesda Market (aka as where the Whole Foods across from White Flint is) has plenty of parking. GGW’s Ben Ross has decried a new planned 300-space lot in Wheaton.

. . .

Project after project promoted by GGW has gone by the wayside in some among the most liberal jurisdictions in the country, so it’s difficult to blame the shift on the Tea Party. Moreover, most of these projects have had frequent and unremitting support from the establishment Washington Post.

In Part II of this series, I’ll examine why the GGW “smart growth” agenda has run aground.

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