Weekly Message From the County Executive: Montgomery Update: Road Improvements Must Start at the American Legion Bridge

Per Montgomery County:


Dear Friends,

Our nation this weekend will recognize the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I attended this event when I was in junior high school. I took the bus down 16th Street and walked over to the Washington Monument. I honestly did not know the importance of that day, in that moment. I just knew that a lot of people were coming into D.C. that day to speak out for civil rights. In the crowds that gathered, I realized I was not alone and that were many others who were outraged by the same things that outraged me. It was good to know that I was not the only person who thought there was something wrong here.

I grew up in Washington, D.C., during segregation and “blockbusting.” I actually saw blockbusting in action when a pair of real estate agents came to my parents’ house and talked to my mother trying to convince her to sell her house because of who was moving into our neighborhood. I saw White families leave and saw the disinvestment in D.C., including the schools. My family moved to Montgomery County in 1960, at a time when Black children were not welcomed. Several years later, my civics teachers in junior high decided to have a class debate on civil rights. The “con” side of the argument argued the position that Black people were not fully human, they were childlike and that they needed to be taken care of. Not a word was spoken by the teachers about those arguments. No effort was made to explain our history. It was treated as just another point of view, even though the very premise of the argument was completely false. I have always thought about that. The kids who opposed civil rights did not invent those views. They did not get it overtly in school. They did not come from the water we drank. They got those racist ideas from adults and from institutions that perpetrated the lie. I have always wondered how those kids grew up: Did they accept the world view they had been raised with or would they grow to reject it? Sixty years later, there is lots of evidence that many people continue to cling to those views today.

I could never understand the logic of racism. It was a view of other people manufactured to provide a rationalization for stealing people’s lands and enslaving them. At the core, because the White community has been taught “all men a created equal and had a right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the subjugation of Black people and native populations required White leaders to fabricate the myth that the enslaved were not fully men and were unequal by virtue of being born Black. On a side note, if you are bored some time, read the British parliamentary debates in the early 1900’s, and you will read discussions of the Irish “situation.” What struck me was that British leadership talked about the Irish being an inferior race, lower than Blacks, and that they should be exterminated. It was a “wow” moment for me because of the insight on how the British viewed the native Irish people, and why the Irish debate was not simply a religious dispute. It was rooted in the dehumanization of Irish Catholics that would be used to steal their land and make them subservient to the British rulers. But I digress. The point is that Western societies, in order to justify abusing conquered people, found that the only way to square their lofty thoughts about the rights of men with their desire to abuse certain people, steal their land and enslave them, required them to create a logic and belief system, that would be imparted on all of us, based on dehumanizing those they would enslave.

It was possible to eradicate slavery with a military victory in the United States, but undoing the beliefs that people were raised with around the inferiority of Black people was a far more difficult task, not at all helped by our refusal to correct the historical record.

In my college years, I fought against the discrimination I saw at University of Maryland, which was largely segregated. Back then in College Park, businesses would not hire Black students, and no landlords wanted to rent to them. Ultimately, laws could change policies, but policy changes, not always easy themselves, are easier than changing beliefs.

Dr. King famously said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed; We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I would have hoped that 60 years later, this nation would have fulfilled Dr. King’s wishes. But, sadly, after years of progress, we continue to see voting rights challenged, affirmative action being overturned and by the Supreme Court, and the refusal by many states—including our neighbors in Virginia—denying the accurate teaching of our racist history in the classrooms.

It is unfortunate that it is still necessary to address the legacy of slavery. It is disheartening to remember an interview that Dr. King had when he was fighting for civil rights legislation. The reporter said, “People say you are moving too fast,” and Dr. King responded that they want us to wait another 40 years. And yet, here we are 60 years later, and we still have massive disparities.

As much as we applaud the Civil Rights Act, not enough was done to change peoples’ lives and to raise them up in education, housing and economics. If you did not get a good education, you still did not get one. If you were in neighborhoods with poor schools, you stayed in poor schools If you lived in poverty, you stayed in poverty. The law failed and left out any plan to rebuild American and address accumulated injustices. For the most part, economic progress has been slow because the underlying socio-economic reality of people has been very slow to change. Prejudices and practices that kept people down remained, even while immigrant communities were welcomed and given opportunities to succeed.

That is one reason we use a racial equity tool in our County to evaluate the impact of our laws and actions in Montgomery County from the perspective of community impacts. Do our practices further, or remove, barriers that may result in unequal impacts with the County? We are examining our policies, practices and spending so that community needs are not ignored. We need every resident and every community to be respected and to have opportunities to thrive.

Generations ago, the March on Washington crystallized the vision of a more tolerant and just nation. We are not there. We are not where we need to be. Montgomery County can say: “We have made a lot of progress, we are one of the most diverse places in the country and there is lots to be proud of.” But we are not perfect. What we are is committed to working toward fulfilling Dr. King’s articulation of a vision that includes all of us.

School Begins on Monday, Aug. 28

As students, parents, and school staff prepare for the start of a new year, I want to thank our County departments who helped with summer activities and education for our children. I appreciate the work of our libraries for keeping so many children and teenagers reading this summer through the Summer Reading Challenge.

I also want to acknowledge the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Positive Youth Development program. It held six events across Montgomery County this summer under our “Summer of Peace” initiative to help engage youth and give them fun activities to look forward to from June to August. More than 1,400 children, teens and families attended our Summer of Peace events.

Other efforts, like our Department of Recreation summer camps, provided a safe space during the day throughout the summer for more than 650 young people. The programs also gave 150 kids a job and allowed 75 young people to volunteer through the TeenWorks program.

Registration is now open for fall programs. I encourage parents to consider the after-school and weekend programs that are available. You can register online at activemontgomery.org.

I would also like to remind everyone about the importance of scheduling back-to-school vaccinations. They are required for public school students and cannot be ignored. The County is offering clinics most Tuesday mornings in September at the Dennis Avenue Health Center in Silver Spring. Visit montgomerycountymd.gov/immunizations for more information.

Immunizations will also be available at the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Back-to-School Fair from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Westfield Wheaton Mall. This is a great opportunity to learn about the school system, County programs and services. Enjoy free music, entertainment, giveaways and youth activities.

MCPS will offer free shuttles to the event from Montgomery Blair, Paint Branch, Gaithersburg and Richard Montgomery high schools. The first shuttles will depart from high schools at 9 a.m. and the last shuttle will depart from Westfield Wheaton at 2 p.m.

Independent Investigation of MCPS Needed

I think it is important to reiterate my call for an independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations made against a now-suspended principal. Additionally, questions have been raised about possible systemic issues regarding responses beyond this one case.

The Board of Education this week provided additional information about the work of the law firm hired to conduct an investigation. I am concerned that using this law firm, which has been used in the past to defend the school district, at the very least does not give the necessary appearance of an independent investigation. Using this firm does not engender the public trust the school system badly needs. An inspector general is more appropriate for this type of investigation. I would support using the County’s inspector general (IG) to look into this investigation, but if she felt her capacity was too limited, the State IG could be asked to do this or a special investigator reporting to the IG could be retained.

The IG also needs to investigate other related allegations that indicate that the current issue may not be an isolated incident. That is, there may be a problem with how these complaints are handled generally. Resolving these questions and concerns is vital for both the community and staff. I hope that MCPS changes course to ensure a truly independent investigation. This is a situation where the appearance of what one does matters. There are multiple entities capable of properly doing an investigation. I am encouraging those with the power to make this change to pick an investigator that does not trigger concerns about independence or objectivity.

Governor Moore/MDOT Announcement on American Legion Bridge, I-270 and I-495

A new plan for the Maryland portion of the Capital Beltway and I-270 will be developed by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) at the request of Governor Wes Moore. Importantly, this proposal will not include the $6 billion public-private partnership developed and championed by the Hogan Administration with Transurban—an Australian company.

Governor Hogan’s proposal was designed to provide revenue and increase the stock value for Transurban shareholders, not to relieve congestion for Maryland motorists or provide public transportation options.

I am pleased by Governor Moore’s announcement that MDOT will pursue a $2.4 billion dollar Federal grant to pay for needed improvements to the road and fix the American Legion Bridge first. These are two approaches that I have advocated for quite a while now. With President Biden’s emphasis on infrastructure and passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, the State should have been previously pursuing this funding.

Starting improvements with the bridge is a commonsense approach, and further recognizes the Governor’s desire to address this problem with actions rather than words. In addition, the Governor’s emphasis on transit in this plan—a significant departure from the previous administration—is key to the success of relieving traffic congestion for our residents and businesses.

I have talked with the Governor’s transportation staff, and it is clear that an actual build-out plan has yet to be determined. The administration is also aware of the broader community issues. The Governor and MDOT have clearly expressed a desire to ensure that they meaningfully engage the public and I have no reason to assume that they will not. So, I encourage people to stay engaged, and be vocal about their concerns should any arise.

I am confident that, by working in a true collaborative fashion, we can find a real solution to this issue that includes our community and resolves issues in a fiscally prudent manner.

Hard Work Ahead in Hawaii for MCFRS Specialists

Maryland Task Force One, including 50 members and two canines from the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, arrived in Hawaii last weekend as part of the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team. They have been deployed to help cover miles of massive devastation caused by the deadly wildfires. Authorities are saying that more than 1,000 people remain unaccounted for.

Our County is contributing more than 10 percent of the workforce deployed for this effort, and that is meaningful. This team is expected to be there for two weeks. It will be physically and emotionally challenging work. I deeply appreciate their willingness to participate in the deployment and I wish them a safe tour of duty.

With barely any notice or warning to flee these fires, survivors lost their homes, belongings and possessions. Even with Federal assistance, many of these families need more aid and help.

These wildfires in Hawaii, hurricanes in Texas and Haiti and tropical storms in California are not the only threats brought on by climate change. New wildfires starting in British Columbia, Canada, rising ocean temperatures and record heat waves are all examples of the deadly dangers from the impact climate change. The more we can do to protect our environment, improve sustainability and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, the better off we all will be.

If you want to help, you can donate to the Red Cross and other organizations like the Maui Strong Fund. They are working directly with the victims.

New Ride On Bus App Helps Identify Different Travel Options

During my weekly media briefing this week, I welcomed the new director for the Department of Environmental Protection Jon Monger. I nominated him for the post because I recognized his passion for improving our lives through environmental change and his leadership qualities. His experience and strategic direction are needed to help accomplish our environmental and sustainability goals. You can listen to him at County Executive Marc Elrich Media Briefing August 23, 2023

One way we are trying to improve our climate is by making public transportation easier to use. Encouraging more people to leave their cars at home and use transit helps reduce greenhouse gases emissions, ease congestion and improve our quality of life.

Ease and access to Ride On is critical to many of our residents. Our bus system is second only to Metro. We have the second-largest public transportation system in the region, serving 46,000 trips on an average workday.

Public transportation can take cars off our streets and helps us reach our Climate Action Plan goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035.

I am pleased that we will soon be purchasing our first Hydrogen buses, as well as beginning construction on a fueling station for Green hydrogen.  This is part of transitioning our bus fleet to zero emissions by 2035, which already includes electric buses.

We continue our work to improve public transit ridership. We have just released our easy-to-use Ride On Trip Planner app. The app allows for better planning across multiple modes of transportation including Ride On buses, Metrorail and Metrobuses, scooters and Bikeshare.

Funded through a Federal Transit Administration grant, this new app provides riders the ability to plan their trip with more precise information about timing, locations, routes and crowd monitoring.  In addition to ride planning, the app also features increased accessibility to better serve residents with disabilities.

I encourage all County residents to download the free app, available via Google Play or the Apple app store (simply search Ride On Trip Planner). If you have not used Ride On yet, or if it has been a while, it is a good time to get on board. Free fares have been made permanent on Ride On for those under age 18 with Kids Ride Free program. Seniors and persons with disabilities can also ride for free. The regular price is only $1 per ride for everyone else.

Community Health Report

We continue to see a slow but steady rise in the number of COVID-19 cases here locally and across Maryland. In a graphic of our wastewater surveillance seen above, you can see the spike in cases over the last month and how that compares to previous waves of COVID. Right now, case rates and hospitalizations are both elevated over last week, but we are not seeing the same impact in emergency room visits or deaths. As long as those latter points remain the norm, we can manage this as we’re doing now.

The State of Maryland is dealing with something we have not seen in 40 years—a locally acquired case of malaria. Health experts say it is an isolated case. The victim was hospitalized and is now recovering, but that person had not traveled from a country where malaria is an issue.

Additionally, bug traps found West Nile Virus present in mosquito populations. No human cases of West Nile have been reported but, like malaria, the disease can be deadly. Spraying to kill mosquitos near traps in Laurel began on Sunday.

Maryland is not the only area seeing mosquito-borne illnesses. Northern Canada is currently warming at three times the global rate there, and mosquitos are spreading disease among wildlife at alarming rates. Virus antibodies were carried by artic foxes, caribou and polar bears.

It is no surprise then that in area where mosquitos are common that we have new threats to monitor and be prepared for. Mosquitos are the most-deadly animals in the world, killing 725,000 humans per year.

To avoid mosquito bites, you can tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks to cover gaps in your clothing where mosquitoes can get to your skin. Stay indoors if there is a mosquito-borne disease warning in effect and use EPA-registered mosquito repellents when necessary. You can help reduce the spread of mosquitos by eliminating standing water around your home. For more information, go to https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/mosquito/

I hope you have a good week.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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