Montgomery County Taxpayers League

The Voice of Taxpayers of Montgomery County, Maryland

October 24, 2013 – Art Holmes

Questions sent to Art Holmes

 in advance of the meeting of October 24, 2013, and his responses:

Questions sent to Art Holmes, Director, Department of Transportation, in advance of the meeting of October 24, 2013, and his responses given at the meeting:

Most of the presentation was made by Edward Gonzalez, Deputy Director for Transportation Policy.

 They passed around a packet of papers showing the organization of the Department. There are five Divisions:

Transportation Engineering is in charge of building roads.

 Traffic Engineering and Operations manages traffic signals and studies. They recently installed a new computer system, replacing the centralized computer with a distributed system as a fail-safe measure.

 Parking Management builds and maintains parking garages.

 Highway Services is in charge of snow removal and fixing potholes.

 Transit Services is responsible for maintenance and operation of buses although the buses are physically maintained by the Department of General Services.

 The transportation system is composed of roads, transit, taxis and pedestrian mobility.

 1.    What is your current budget and what are the major categories, e.g., road maintenance.  Also what do you currently budget for Ride-On, Metrobus, and Metrorail?  What are your cost projections for the next 5 years? As there is no Maintenance of Effort Law for transportation how do you plan ahead for possible budget cuts?

           The FY2014 operating budget of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) totals $196 million, of which $121 million (61%) goes to transit, $34 million (17%) to highway maintenance, $27 million (14%) to parking, $9 million (5%) to traffic engineering, $1 million (1%) to engineering and $4 million (2%) to the Director’s Office. Over the last 3 fiscal years that budget has increased only slightly while percentages have remained basically unchanged. In addition, the state has provided $121 million in funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) to benefit Montgomery County.

           ICC revenues are slightly exceeding projections with the FY2013 revenue totaling $39 million, all of which goes to the state.

 2.   The State has recently announced that it will fund the Purple Line but is also looking at a public-private partnership.  This is an innovative approach never before been implemented at quite this scale.  What do you see as pitfalls for Montgomery County?  Can we be left holding the bag?  How does budgeting for such a project work?

           The window for public comment on the 18-mile Purple line closed in June with further announcements to be made later this year regarding how much Federal funding to request. After that funding request is sent to the Federal Department of Transportation, they will make a decision about whether to include it in the DOT budget request to be submitted to Congress by the President early in 2014.

        The estimated cost is $2.2 billion with Federal aid estimated at $900 million. Both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will provide $110 million each.

         There will be a connection at the Bethesda station between the Red and the Purple Lines and a stop at the new Silver Spring library. The south entrance at Bethesda will increase Red Line ridership by only 440 riders daily. On the surface there will be 6 elevators to take passengers to the Purple Line and 2 more to take them to the Red Line.

         Building the new station in Bethesda for the Purple Line is complicated by the presence of the current Apex Building. The county is now negotiating with the Apex owners about the county buying the building and tearing it down. However, the negotiations have not yet produced any kind of an agreement.

        The public-private partnership (P3) now being considered for the Purple Line does have some risks although it has worked well in other places. The state will be leading the negotiations with representatives from both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties involved. There is always the possibility that the private company can go bankrupt. There could also be construction problems and problems between the county and the concessionaire, which will be responsible for “curb to curb” maintenance.

 3.    How much will your budget grow to build and maintain the Corridor Cities Line and the Bus Rapid Transit lines?  How much do you estimate for each in maintenance costs? Costs for these new projects are often quoted in “cost per mile”.  What are the total number of miles involved? How much of this will be funded by the state?

        The Corridor Cities Line will have only a slight impact on the budget as operating costs per mile of the 9-mile line will run $2-3 million. Construction costs are not yet known but are estimated to be $540 million. There are alternative ways to finance the project.

         Bus Rapid Transit operating costs will run at a minimum of $600K annually. Concept planning is now taking place for 3 of the lines. Total miles for the project is 80. The state has not yet made a commitment to this project.

 4.     How do your department’s salary costs compare to Howard and Fairfax counties?  If Montgomery County’s costs are higher is our productivity proportionately higher?

         It is difficult to get “oranges to oranges” information to make accurate comparisons. Fairfax County does not make a good comparison as it is smaller in size (350 square miles to Montgomery’s 495). Its local bus system has 350 buses while Montgomery has over 500.

        After the meeting Deputy Director Gonzalez provided us with the following information:

         As far as comparing the Department of Transportation in Fairfax County to our Department the size and responsibilities are quite different.  Let me point out a few for starters:

 1. Fairfax does not design or build roads or any other transportation facilities.  All of those responsibilities are with the State of Virginia, not the County.

 2. Fairfax does not maintain their roads, deal with tree maintenance or remove snow.  Those are the State of Virginia’s responsibilities.

 3. Fairfax does not operate or maintain their Traffic Signals and street signs.  Those are responsibilities of the State.

 4. Fairfax contracts out their transit system, which is much smaller, by about 100 buses.

 5. Because of all the functions the State performs in Virginia, including Fairfax County, their Department size is not even 25 percent of the size of our Department.

         So, it would not be quite the same level of authority, responsibility and accountability involved in both jurisdictions.

         As to the question of outsourcing (that was raised in the meeting) the county tried outsourcing bus services in FY2007-2011 but it resulted in poor maintenance and poor service. Although there are no current plans to review the situation, outsourcing is reviewed periodically. However, the County bus services are lower than comparable services from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

 5.    Bus Rapid Transit is less costly than the proposed Purple Line.  Are we planning to proceed with both?

        The County wants to proceed with both but there are still a lot of unknowns.

6.    How much do you collect from Inter-County Connector fees?  What progress has been made collecting fees from drivers who do not pay?

       All revenue from the ICC go to the state. The law changed July 1, 2013, to give the state Motor Vehicles Administration legal authority to collect fines and penalties from those who use the system but don’t pay. Currently there are about 650,000 unpaid fines amounting to over $6 million. But 99% of all current users do pay.

More information can be found at the website of the Department of Transportation:

http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dot/index.html