In this week’s message, County Executive Marc Elrich talks about the continued need to stick with tough measures against the COVID-19 variant. He also expresses his disappointment with this week’s vote of the Maryland Board of Public Works regarding the State’s plan to expand I-495 and I-270. He discusses the Climate Action Plan of the U.N. And he also joins the many County residents who are glad historic Hank Dietle’s Tavern is back in business on Rockville Pike.
The message is available below:
Unfortunately, we are continuing to see COVID-19 cases rise around the County and the State. The Delta variant, which is dominant right now, is highly contagious. The good news is that the cases among the vaccinated is very low and hospitalizations for that population is even lower. Montgomery County continues to have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.
The County face covering mandate for everyone in indoor, publicly accessible areas continues to be in effect. The mandate makes good sense for many reasons. We still have unvaccinated people, and even with vaccinations, the virus can spread. Of course, there are certain populations—children under 12 and some immune-compromised individuals—who are not eligible for a vaccine.
Unfortunately, the Delta variant transmits five times faster than previous variants of COVID-19, so we need to get more people vaccinated. From the beginning we have done everything we can to keep our County’s residents as safe as possible and to distribute vaccines as far and wide as possible. We will continue our efforts to get everyone vaccinated. In the meantime, masks are an important tool against the spread. We can win this fight, but we need every eligible person to get vaccinated and for everyone to wear face coverings indoors.
STATE BOARD OF PUBLIC WORKS VOTE ON GOVERNOR’S PLAN TO EXPAND I-270 AND THE BELTWAY
I am sorry to report that on Wednesday, the state Board of Public Works (BPW) voted (2-1) to approve the “predevelopment agreement” with Australian firms Transurban and Macquarie to develop toll lanes on the American Legion Bridge, I-495, and I-270. (The Governor, the State Comptroller and the State Treasurer are the members of the BPW. The board is chaired by the Governor and makes decisions on how state funds are spent on capital projects such as roads, school construction, and more.) This a costly setback to residents. I – along with State legislators, the County Council, environmentalists and residents – had argued that this was not the right approach because it does not solve the congestion problem and it lacked an essential financial analysis, putting taxpayers at risk of spending more than necessary on this project.
I testified in person before the Board of Public Works on Wednesday. I explained that the project before them did not provide a complete solution – it only addressed I-270 up to I-370, so that for northern Montgomery and others up to Frederick, traffic going north will actually be worse than it is today as the state’s own study showed.
This map shows the bottlenecks that remain even if the project were built.
|Map of bottlenecks|
We need a complete solution that addresses congestion all the way from the American Legion Bridge to Frederick and we need reversible lanes as I have explained.
I also explained that the required financial analysis by the State needed to be conducted before the BPW vote, but that analysis has not yet happened. Treasurer Nancy Kopp was blocked from completing the required legal and fiscal analysis of the contract in advance of this vote. No analysis was done identifying whether a private partner should be used to borrow the money. This is a huge problem that will be passed to toll payers because the State can borrow at lower rates than the private company and higher rates equal higher tolls.
It is ironic that this vote came the day after the Senate passed the largest infrastructure bill in our nation’s history. These are exactly the kind of funds that are meant to be used for projects like fixing the American Legion Bridge. If we applied for, and received, Federal funds, the cost to our residents would be further reduced. The Governor’s refusal to apply for those funds makes no sense.
You can read the letter I sent to the BPW here. And you can read the piece I wrote for the Washington Post here. You can read the letter from the State legislators here. You can read the letter from Congressmen Jamie Raskin and Anthony Brown here. You can read the County Council’s letter to the BPW here. And I also explained some of the issues of concerns in last week’s letter, which you can read here.
The bottom line is that the project as approved by the BPW does not solve our congestion problems, and as I have said from the very beginning, I think there is a viable solution and I want to work with the Governor to solve this problem. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the State to minimize impacts on the lower portion of the project. Going forward, I will continue to fight for a project that serves the County and beyond.
U.S. SENATE PASSES HISTORIC INFRASTRUCTURE BILL
The U.S. Senate’s passage of the infrastructure bill earlier this week is one of the most important pieces of legislation I have seen passed in my lifetime. It will not only help us rebound economically from the pandemic, it will also help us build a more sustainable and equitable future for generations of Americans. It will create jobs, more economic opportunity, and address decades of infrastructure needs that will directly impact the lives of people all over this nation.
I want to thank Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin for their advocacy, determination and votes to get this historic bill through the Senate. I look forward to working with our Federal delegation to ensure that our County’s transportation and infrastructure priorities receive these much-needed investments.
U.N. CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT AND OUR CLIMATE ACTION PLAN
This week we experienced another week of extremely hot temperatures. The heat, fires, floods and the storms are the result of our planet getting warmer. Earlier this week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a sobering report. This report notes that human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.
We need to bring the same kind of awareness and sense of urgency to combat climate change as we brought to fighting COVID. Humans caused this problem, and we have to fix it by changing our behavior, policies and actions.
We cannot solve it all at the local level, but we are doing our part. We are using the Climate Action Plan as the County’s strategic roadmap to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I am proud that it is one of the most ambitious plans in the country.
Our Climate Action Plan identifies 86 actions that the County must address to eliminate GHGs by 2035 and increase climate resilience. We already have 75 of the actions underway, and the strategies outlined in this plan also focus on those in our community who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and identify opportunities to enhance racial equity while reducing emissions.
In the spring, we sent two items for action to the County Council to address emissions from new and existing buildings, which are major generators of greenhouse gas emissions. The Building Energy Performance Standard legislation (BEPS) will require owners of the largest and most energy-consuming buildings to take action to improve their buildings’ energy performances. The other is for the adoption of the International Green Construction Code, which would require that new buildings use less energy, generate more renewable energy and create healthy spaces for our residents. The Council is scheduled to review these proposals in the fall.
FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF FLOWER BRANCH APARTMENTS TRAGEDY
Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the horrible explosion at the Flower Branch Apartments. It was a tragedy that took the lives of seven people.
The devastation we experienced that day, and the impact it had on our community, is difficult to forget, but it has motivated us to act and improve how we monitor situations like this. We have put policies in place designed to protect residents so nothing like this happens again.
The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the failure of an indoor mercury service regulator contributed to the explosion. This led to the Council taking action and it passed the Mercury Service Regulator bill, which requires landlords to identify and report indoor mercury service regulators. At the State level, HB345 will require new gas service regulators be installed on the outside of buildings and require existing regulators in multifamily units be relocated outside of building.
Legislation cannot bring back the people we lost that day, but it can protect tenants going forward. It is our way of paying tribute to the seven victims, as well as their families and friends.
A WIN FOR HELPING THOSE IN NEED
I am pleased to report that the County has prevailed at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the case Bauer et. al. v Elrich et. al. The plaintiffs challenged the County’s Emergency Assistance Relief Payment (EARP) program that we designed to provide a desperately needed lifeline for the County’s most vulnerable residents, who were hit hardest by the pandemic. I am grateful for the win and to the many other states and organizations who stood with us to defend this important program. This program was the right thing to do. It is not our way to turn our back on people in need.
HANK DIETLE’S REOPENS AND SMALL BUSINESS VISITS WEEK NO. 3
As part of my Small Business Summer Tour, this week I stopped by Hank Dietle’s Tavern in North Bethesda to welcome it back and present the owners with a proclamation. Hank Dietle’s Tavern had been closed since a fire in 2018 and reopened last month. Hank Dietle’s Tavern is an institution that has been around since 1916. It was the first bar in the County to receive a liquor license after Prohibition and it was the first bar where I had a drink when I could legally drink. It has always been a great gathering place, and it was nice to be among music lovers and to hear Dan Hovey, guitarist from one of my favorite bands, The Nighthawks.
I am also continuing visits to other small businesses including Happy Hands Learning Center, a company that offers a bilingual early childhood development program, and Anglo Dutch Pools and Toys, a company that sells supplies and toys for pools. It has been around for more than 35 years.
These small business visits are a great way to see the entrepreneurial energy of our small businesses.
WE LOST A GIANT IN THE LABOR WORLD
I want to note the death of Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO and a Rockville resident. Richard Trumka helped strengthen and reinvigorate the national labor movement and was a strong and powerful voice for working people all over this country. He will be missed.
And I want to acknowledge another Montgomery County resident, Robert McCartney, who retired from The Washington Post after 39 years. I have appreciated his work over the years and wish him well.
As always, my appreciation to all of you.