Budget Part 3: Transportation and Climate

Dear Resident:

The latest report from the U.N. panel on climate change delivered a stark warning, but also a pragmatic path forward. We need to act, now, at all levels of government and society to reduce and eventually eliminate our emissions.

The task ahead of us is enormous, but it is achievable. We know what we need to do, and we have all the tools we need. One of those tools is to generate much more clean energy. We need to electrify our buildings and make them more efficient. We need to transition the transportation sector to electric and invest heavily in transit, biking, and walking.

Fortunately, doing these things needn’t mean living with less and paying more for it. Done smartly and deliberately, greening our homes and vehicles presents enormous upside for jobs and economic growth as we invest in new technologies and upgrading buildings, appliances, and machinery. As President Biden has said, “When I think about climate change, I think about jobs. Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation ready to be fired up.”

It is in that spirit that I approached this year’s budget. I am happy to report that we took major steps forward this year as a result of initiatives that I championed.

Electrifying Montgomery County
As part of an ongoing commitment, we provided almost $20 million to the Montgomery County Green Bank to support their work to retrofit buildings with more efficient, clean, and sustainable technology. My thanks to the Councilmembers who introduced the original bill. Beginning next year, this funding will only be able to be used for clean electric-based energy systems, because of an amendment I authored and the Council supported.

This amendment puts Montgomery County at the forefront of the electrification strategy by putting our public monies behind the cleanest technologies, instead of supporting fossil-fuel based energy systems that are designed to last another 10-30 years, well past the County’s goal of zero emissions by 2035.

In addition to these budget items, we have also made progress in moving the private sector’s buildings toward zero emissions, a critical step in meeting our climate goals. In May, the Council passed Building Energy Performance Standards, which will require existing buildings to increase their efficiency and reduce emissions in a series of steps in the coming decades. For new construction and major renovations, I have partnered with County Executive Elrich to introduce legislation for all-electric building standards by 2024.

More and Better Transportation
The budget continues our commitment to the Purple Line and the connected Capital Crescent Trail by rejecting the County Executive’s repeated attempts to defund the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel in the heart of Bethesda. The County Executive proposed narrowing the Purple Line to a single track to avoid building a tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue and then subsequently proposed replacing the tunnel with an at-grade crosswalk. Thankfully, my Council colleagues have joined me in once again ensuring that our budget supports the vision of the high-quality Purple Line that residents have been promised.

This budget finally funds two of our long-proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines, thanks in large part to the agreement this Council negotiated to get a large new infusion of transit funding from the State through the plan to expand the American Legion Bridge and 270. These lines will urbanize 355 and promote safety on Veirs Mill while providing a high quality transit connection from Wheaton to Germantown.

In the UpCounty, we were able to accelerate construction of the first phase of Observation Drive Extended, which is a critical connection for Clarksburg and the future route for BRT into Clarksburg. That project includes a new side path, making it safer and easier to bike and walk along that corridor.

RideOn and Metrobus fares will remain free for kids, seniors, and people with disabilities, the latter two groups riding free thanks to an initiative I championed last year.

I am extremely pleased that the budget includes a record investment in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in several of the County’s equity emphasis areas, a proposal I worked closely with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) to develop. All told, we added over $10 million in new funding to build safe, accessible infrastructure in Wheaton, White Oak, Silver Spring, and Takoma/Langley over the next few years.

Working with my T&E colleagues and the Commission on People with Disabilities, we were able to get more out of our charges on Uber and Lyft to get more wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) on the road. We have taken our biggest step forward yet in standing up a fleet of vehicles that can provide adequate service on-demand for people who use wheelchairs.

This year’s budget is a good one for the climate, and it will help residents get around more quickly and safely.

Next up is strengthening our minority-owned businesses.

Hans Riemer