Monday, October 27, 2014

GUEST POST: Warning from Former MoCo Planning Board Chair Gus Bauman on the MD vs. VA Transportation Battle

Former Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Gus Bauman provided Maryland Juice the following guest post on the transportation infrastructure race between Maryland and Virginia. His comments below were sent in two batches to County officials (once in 2009 and later in 2014). You can read his thoughts on the challenges facing Maryland below, triggered by the opening of the Northern Virginia WMATA Silver Line this past July:
GUS BAUMAN (CIRCA 2014): To the County Executive, Council Members, Planning Board Members: Tomorrow, July 26, 2014, at high noon, Montgomery County’s future will, in my judgment, have reached a tipping point. The Silver Line’s first phase to Tysons and Reston opens; five new Metro stations in prime areas of Fairfax County will change everything. Then it’s on to Dulles Airport.

Recently, DC opened a new Metro station at NoMa. Development is exploding there. Alexandria, for its part, is nailing down the location of its new Metro station at the growing urban center of Potomac Yard. In short, as I see it, the economic future of our region is increasingly concentrating along the Blue and Orange and now Silver Lines. The cultural vibrancy of the DC area is rapidly consolidating around places like U St., 14th St., Ballston, Clarendon. Tysons and Potomac Yard will invariably follow.

We must be candid with ourselves. Except for Silver Spring, Montgomery County has no place today that can realistically compete for the attentions and diverse demands of the all-important Uber Generation. I sent off a warning, called A Looming Challenge, about all this 4.5 years ago (see the attachment). We are now 4.5 years closer to our mutual future.
Gus Bauman's 2014 comments are a follow-up to the following letter (aka attachment) he sent county officials in 2009:
GUS BAUMAN (CIRCA 2009): Dear County Executive Leggett, County Council President Floreen and Council Members, Planning Board Chairman Hanson and Planning Board Members; In recent days, I have had the opportunity to tour several major transportation projects being built in the DC region and to review materials related to the forthcoming impacts of those projects. I have come to the conviction that the cumulative impacts of these projects are about to transform profoundly how people will view the DC region and, by extension, Montgomery County's place in it. Because of the geographic positioning of these projects and the singular timing of their arrival, how Montgomery County views its future may well need reassessment.

Consider the following.

Immediately to Montgomery County's west, in Fairfax County, Metrorail's Silver Line is well under construction. In 2013, a little over three years from now, four stations will open in Tysons Corner alone. That is akin to the Gallery Place, Metro Center, Farragut North, and Dupont Circle Red Line stations all opening at once. Simultaneously, the Capital Beltway HOT lanes are well under construction along a 14 mile corridor, centered on Tysons Corner, in northern Virginia. They are scheduled to open in 2012. Tysons Corner is then poised to commence massive redevelopment of its 3,200 acres.

To provide some sense of equivalent comparisons, downtown Bethesda covers 400 acres. The Life Sciences Center encompasses 900 acres. Immediately to Montgomery County's east, in Prince George's County, sits the future city of Konterra. It is ready to begin development once the Intercounty Connector (MD 200) interchanges with I-95. That will occur in 2012. Konterra covers 2,200 acres. Its ultimate scale will be enormous. Thus, just when we will likely have emerged from the Great Recession, the landscape we have been used to for so long will be radically changing on Montgomery County's western and eastern borders. Even before this coming upheaval in the region, looking at just one indicator of the long-current status quo should give one pause in Montgomery County. Already, of the 20 busiest Metrorail stations, fully 18 are in DC, Arlington County, and Fairfax County. Shady Grove is the 14th busiest and Silver Spring the 15th (Bethesda is the 21st). Once the Silver Line starts service in 2013 (and later continues westward to Dulles Airport), a more pronounced shift of the region's economic resources away from Montgomery County can reasonably be expected if current assumptions are not reexamined. And Konterra will likewise be pulling significant economic resources eastward.

Nothing I have stated is to begrudge our neighbors the creative initiatives they have embarked upon. It is all to their credit. But these huge initiatives, centered on imminent alterations to the region's transportation network west and east of Montgomery County, will likely shift the dynamic of growth, and life, within the County as well as the region. Of course, Montgomery County is not standing still. It also stands to gain from MD 200's interchange with I-270 as well as the County's plans for the I-270/MD 355 corridor.

Yet, I would respectfully suggest that the County's future-thinking needs to focus more on Montgomery's realworld position in a highly competitive region about to change dramatically on our borders. The looming challenge now posed by what is just around the corner should not be permitted to sap Montgomery County's viability within a strong region.
Mr. Bauman's comments mirror Maryland Juice's own worries about Virginia's significant investments in transit infrastructure in recent months.

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