Weekly Message from County Executive Marc Elrich
Once again, I start with information about COVID-19 and vaccination rates. Happily, the news continues to be positive. Our COVID numbers remain low and 78 percent of our eligible population—those who are 12 and older—are vaccinated. We continue to bring the vaccine to people all over the County, including at this past Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown. While we are doing well, we have not forgotten that it is important to vaccinate as many people as possible because, as long as there is transmission, there is the possibility for the virus to mutate. Our worst fear is that one mutation might open a pathway around the vaccines, and we are doing everything we can to stop that—which is why getting everyone vaccinated is so important.
I-270, 495 and the American Legion Bridge
Some of you may have followed recent news about the State’s plan to widen I-270 and install toll lanes that would be developed and operated by a private operator. Last week, the Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments voted to remove from its long range plan the project as currently configured. This removal was supported by jurisdictions around the region because we understand that we need a solution that will reduce congestion and use scarce resources efficiently. The plan, as currently configured, is unnecessarily expensive and impactful.
I support addressing congestion on the Beltway, I-270 and most importantly, on the American Legion Bridge. I also support what has been the County Council’s position for more than a decade that the State address the congestion on I-270 with two reversible lanes. These lanes would run north to south in morning during the horrible rush hour, and then run north in the evening when the heavy congestion shifts northbound. The truth is, that for most of the day, no one would gain anything by paying tolls in non-peak directions. This plan makes maximum use of two lanes and would generate equivalent revenue for building half of the lanes. Additionally, the current plan stops at the ICC, leaving our County without relief north of the ICC and on to Frederick.
We seek a comprehensive solution that is both effective and fiscally responsible. We have suggested that the State seek Federal funding for the American Legion Bridge since it is an aging structure that connects two interstates (I-270 and I-95) and will need major repairs relatively soon. Saddling drivers for the entire cost of this without even trying to get Federal assistance really does not seem to be a fiscally responsible approach. And we need a robust transit network as an integral part of this plan. The current plan does not solve bottlenecks on I-270—it simply moves their locations at great expense. We have a Federal government that has made a clear commitment to infrastructure, and we need to work with them to get the bridge and road capacity we need.
This week I unveiled my Climate Action Plan. This is a big deal. This is the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by an enormous number of community residents and County staff. This plan will guide the County toward its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2027 and by 100 percent by 2035, compared to 2005 levels. It is the most ambitious and bold plan of any local government in the nation and is designed to increase resiliency in the face of climate hazards.
The plan outlines 86 climate actions built on the work of more than 200 volunteer members of the Climate Technical Workgroups and reflects input from a wide variety of community groups and the general public. I want to thank this group and everyone involved for their efforts and getting us to this milestone.
The unveiling of the plan makes Montgomery County a model for other jurisdictions and provides an opportunity for us to build a healthy, equitable and resilient community for the future. We must take big, bold steps and this plan is filled with initiatives to reach our goals. Collectively, communities across the State of Maryland, the country and the world must address climate action at a scale that is necessary to curb the cataclysmic social, environmental and economic impacts of climate change. Although the action plan will certainly have costs, the costs of doing nothing will be far greater.
If the pandemic had not completely dominated most of the space in the news cycle, the rapidly deteriorating climate and the worsening projections for the negative impacts of climate change at home and around the world would have been the big news. We need to bring the same kind of awareness to fighting climate change as we brought to fighting COVID.
One of the consistent messages we brought to the COVID battle was that the spread of COVID was ultimately and completely controlled by us, particularly during the period of no vaccines. COVID was a people-to-people problem and it was our interactions that made it possible to spread, or impossible. From my youth, I remember a similar theme brought to us by a bear: “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Last year, only we could control the spread of COVID. Now, it is time to face the reality that only WE can end climate change. It will not end without changes in our actions, whether they are individual decisions, business decisions or government decisions. We begin the work now and persevere, and our reward will be leaving a better planet to future generations. Or we can do nothing, hope it goes away and ignore the horrible mess we have made of our planet. For me, the latter is absolutely not an option.
Throughout the summer, and into the early fall, the climate team will host community conversations to present the plan to residents, businesses and property owners. At the same time, we are working on short-term and longer-term actions.
You can read about the list of actions for the coming year here. And you can read the entire plan here.
I urge everyone to get involved and help us to address climate change as a community.
I look forward to working with you on this and other important issues.
As always, thank you for your support and the work you do.