Proposed New Transportation Policy Area Review
Testimony to the Montgomery County Planning Board
Submitted by ACT Vice President Cavan Wilk, April 19, 2012
The Action Committee for Transit is unable to support the Transportation Policy Area Review (TPAR) in its current draft. While we applaud the document's goal to raise more revenue for transportation projects, its inflexible designation of future funds for new road construction projects will overbuild auto infrastructure and simply goes against Montgomery County and Maryland's stated Smart Growth principles. Further, we are concerned that including provisions that prohibit the County Council from appropriating the newly raised monies for needed transit projects prevents Montgomery County voters from having a say in how our county invests its transportation dollars.
The TPAR includes provisions to tax real estate development to raise funds for transportation. We are concerned that the transportation tax would be unevenly applied in practice. While all new development would be taxed, we wonder if the recent trend of offering lucrative tax incentives to nationally successful businesses such as Costco, Lockheed Martin, and Discovery would offset future transportation tax revenues in aggregate. Therefore, other businesses who do not have tax subsidies would be left paying the entire bill. These other businesses would most likely be locally-focused and small. It would unintentionally amount to a wealth transfer from our valuable small businesses to our big businesses.
Finally, we are concerned that the TPAR's definition of "Adequate Transit" falls short of the quality of service that would attract choice passengers. Having 30% of Montgomery County homes within one third of a mile of a bus that runs every 20 minutes during peak hours and every 30 minutes during the rest of the day provides a mobility paradigm that does not perform as well as driving a single-occupant private car through rush hour congestion. Nobody who has a choice would choose the TPAR's definition of "Adequate Transit" over their own private vehicle. The net result would be no change over the status quo in the car-dependent parts of the county; a goal hardly worth pursuing.
In the past couple of years, Montgomery County has entered a land use framework that is unprecedented in its history: infill. In previous decades, we would build roads over undeveloped land then watch the car-dependent subdivisions and strip malls sprout up seemingly overnight. Our county no longer has undeveloped land outside of our Agriculture Reserve, and we support maintaining the Reserve in the strongest terms possible. Transportation planning should reflect this change in the paradigm for our county. Both our 20- and 30-something generations and our Baby Boomer residents planning for retirement are demanding more transit investment. If we want to attract tomorrow's jobs and residents, we must make transportation planning funding decisions that will provide our duly elected County Council the flexibility to invest in the infrastructure that is already popular and in high demand.