County Council Searches For Transportation Funding Options
County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) today hosted a panel of experts at a council committee meeting to discuss creative options for funding transportation projects. Berliner is one of many Montgomery County politicians who would like to see a state gas tax hike to help pay for projects such as the unfunded $2.1 billion Purple Line light rail system that would connect Bethesda and Chevy Chase with Silver Spring and east into Prince George's County. That hike may not happen, even after Berliner and Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park helped organize a statewide Transportation Summit in Annapolis late last year. Officials from Northern Virginia, where new Beltway HOT lanes recently debuted and where WMATA's Silver Line to Dulles Airport is close to opening, spoke about how they funded those major projects. Arthur Guzzetti, vice president for police of the American Public Transit Association, told the committee there is no "cookie-cutter" strategy for funding major transportation projects. "Whatever you can get the votes for is the way to go," Guzzetti said. Fairfax County made a $900 million contribution to the nearly $6.8 billion Silver Line by raising taxes on commercial properties that stand to benefit from the Metro's extension to Dulles Airport, according to Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's Deborah Lipman. The MWAA, which operates Dulles Airport, is a partner in the Silver Line project and used a passenger facility tax to fund the Silver Line station planned for the airport. "Why aren't we able to come up with these financing packages in what's happening in Maryland," asked Leventhal. "Part of the reason for that is obviously political." Based on the example of the Virginia HOT lanes, which are toll lanes paid for with an EZ Pass, Leventhal suggested widening the Beltway and I-270 and adding toll lanes to generate revenue for corresponding projects that would seek to take traffic off those roads. Most decision makers in the county agree the Purple Line would help ease congestion on east to west routes such as the Beltway and a Bus Rapid Transit network could connect places such as downtown Bethesda with White Flint and Rockville.