County Executive Ike Leggett has decided not to submit state legislation for the creation of a Transit Authority in Montgomery County. The project, to create a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system in Montgomery County, begins with four initial Rapid Transit Corridors (RTS), and would feature more construction as it expands the transport system.
County Executive Leggett said in a statement to Mr. Mark Winston, Chair of the Transit Task Force on October 29th, that he would not be introducing the legislation this year after receiving feedback from the Transit Task Force.
“The idea of having more convenient locations sounds better. I know I live at the very end of the metro line and the fact this isn’t happening because of a lack of convenience …” said Jennifer Flores, a junior at Richard Montgomery, and a frequent user of the public transportation system. “I understand that people don’t want an increase in property taxes, but I feel like having a more convenient system for getting people around Montgomery County in general as a big area would be better. It seems like a really good idea, economically and environmentally,” she continued.
Opposition to his initial proposal began last year, as criticisms of the Independent Transit Authority (ITA) centered on a concern that the project would lead to an increase in local property taxes. However, Executive Leggett remains determined to continue raising awareness for the project.
He continued that “most County residents are unaware of the considerable benefits that a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) would bring to our County and its residents.” The estimated costs of building are $1.6 billion, and $51.6 million a year in operations. Four plans were suggested by the task force to collect the funds, and most featured a combination of already-existing taxes. One example explored four separate scenarios using the county’s property tax, with the highest increase in property tax being $260 annually for an average homeowner, or an average 30-year rate increase of 5.90¢.
The task force had several criticisms of its structure.
– The ITA board should have seven members nominated by the county executive and confirmed by the council, and serve four-year terms.
– The ITA should submit a multi-year capital improvements program to the council.
– The ITA should not be permitted to take property through eminent domain unless the acquisition has been approved in advance by the council and its budget allocation process.
– The ITA should make public financial audits every year to ensure “adequate internal controls.” Members of the ITA board should be subject to county ethics laws and the agency must participate in the county’s Open Government Initiative.
However, the task force did approve of the bus transit program overall and want to see improvements made before it moves forward. In the report released on the 16th of September, the group addressed criticisms of BRT as both expensive and merely a replication of systems already in place.
“The County needs to make a major commitment to rapid transit…to meet the needs of residents whose economic circumstances limit their options in selecting a place to live and work,” they said in their report.
35 percent of black residents and 34 percent of Hispanic residents in the county earn less than $50,000 and projections that more than half of the forecasted jobs in major industries will offer less than today’s median county wage of $98,326. These statistics were used in their report to justify the need for the project.
The group is not in favor of the project and want to see it improved as soon as possible before it is finalized. Many members were on the team that worked on writing the recommendation in 2012. Instead, the county will introduce a community education and outreach program on BRT.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Alex Haddad of Richard Montgomery High School