July 22, 2021

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

Locally, the news around COVID-19 vaccinations continues to be quite positive, but our average number of cases is rising. We continue to remain concerned about the increase in the Delta variant cases and are watching carefully.

On the brighter side, about 83 percent of our eligible residents—people 12 years and older—are fully vaccinated. And more than 90 percent of the eligible population have received at least one dose. This is a major milestone, and I want to thank you all for your efforts. We continue to rank as No. 1 nationwide for percentage of the 12 and older population that is fully vaccinated among all U.S. counties with 300,000 or more residents.

These numbers are impressive, but as we know, children under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced its recommendation that students--regardless of their vaccination status—should be wearing masks in classrooms. We are working with our schools and our Board of Health to provide updated guidance given this announcement. Additionally, I have asked our COVID response team to create contingency plans in order to prepare next steps if COVID rates worsen. Hopefully, they will not, but we need to be prepared.

Earlier this week, I stood with Police Chief Marcus Jones as we provided details surrounding the tragic death of Ryan Leroux and expressed our condolences to the Leroux family. Please know that there will be a full investigation of this matter so that we can understand what happened and why. The County has a process designed to ensure that investigations are fair and carried out by an independent third party that does not have an active involvement in policing here, which is why the Howard County State's Attorney investigates Montgomery County police-involved shootings. I have also directed the police to do a full review of the incident and their tactics so we can help make sure this outcome does not happen again.

I want the residents of Montgomery County, as well as Mr. Leroux's family, to know that this investigation will be transparent. I have directed the police to release the body-worn camera videos to the public as soon as possible. This will happen after the Howard County State’s Attorney has statements from all of the witnesses. Understandably, he does not want anyone’s statement affected by what they might see in the video. However, we expect the release to occur soon. The findings from this investigation will be used in our efforts to reimagine public safety and to develop strategies that will produce different outcomes.

Managing traffic congestion on I-270 and I-495 – the ‘how’ is crucial

This week, the Council of Government’s Transportation Planning Board (TPB) voted in favor of the State’s plan regarding traffic congestion along I-270 and I-495. That plan did not include the improvements that had been sought by the County and many residents. While I appreciate the State’s interest in addressing congestion, the current plan is inadequate to actually solve these problems. Since I first took office, I have offered suggestions to improve the plan. My office has worked with the State over the past two years to bring about major positive changes to the project, including insisting that it include the American Legion Bridge, that the I-270 portion stay within the existing walls, that the Corridor Cities Transitway be funded from toll revenues, and that the ICC be used to bring cars from I-95 to the express lanes on I-270, rather than crowding the Beltway. We have been able to get to “yes” on all those items. We have sought from the beginning to reduce the costs and impacts of this project as we seek to provide traffic relief.

I want to be clear about what we were—and are—pressing the State to address. For more than 10 years, the County’s position has clearly stated that I-270 should be expanded by two reversible lanes that would provide the additional capacity needed during the rush hours: southbound lanes in the morning and northbound lanes in the evening. The State plan would add four lanes—two in each direction. Only during the peak rush hour periods are two additional lanes needed, which is why reversible lanes make sense, cost less and reduce the additional pavement needed. We also wanted design improvements on the western side of the Beltway that would mitigate against environmental and community harm. We discussed multiple ways to do that with the State Highway Administration, including suggestions that had actually been made by other bidders. Additionally, we have been advocating for a complete solution on I-270 from the American Legion Bridge to Frederick, which needs to include real transit solutions. The State’s proposal only goes between the American Legion Bridge and the ICC. If an additional track were added to the MARC rail line, train service could operate throughout the day in both directions, which is not possible currently. There is no funding to complete these improvements to Frederick, meaning that commuters from upper Montgomery and beyond will continue to be stuck in what the Governor likes to call “soul-crushing traffic.” In the evening rush hour, commuters who need to go north of the ICC will face a huge bottleneck as the toll lanes disappear and all the traffic merges into the general traffic lanes. The State has yet to say how it will fund this part and when it will do this; we have asked that the State guarantee that the whole project can be implemented. So, many County residents, particularly in Germantown and Clarksburg, will start and end their commutes mired in congestion under the State’s plan.

The current proposal increases tolls as congestion increases in order to keep too many people from using the toll road. The idea is that some people will pay very high tolls to ride freely if the no-toll/general lanes are really miserable. In other words, only people with means can buy out of the terrible traffic by paying the tolls, which are projected to be shockingly high. These tolls are not structured simply to repay the project; they are structured to limit the number of people in the new toll lanes. So if you are stuck in the general (no-toll) lanes, as most of us will be, soul-crushing traffic will remain—despite all the hype to the contrary.

The financing of this plan is also flawed and as this project now goes before the Maryland Board of Public Works. I hope that all the details of this deal are closely reviewed and investigated. State Treasurer Nancy Kopp has said that the Governor refused to fund the study that her office was legally required to conduct on the financing of this project. If this is a clean and transparent plan, then the Governor should embrace a careful review of the financing. The Legislature’s own non-partisan staff has reported that the Governor never had an evaluation done on whether a private partner was necessary for financing this project, or whether instead the State could have borrowed the money for less, financed it with tolls (or not) and reduced the price of the project by reducing financing costs. It is no wonder that the overwhelming number of State Senators and Delegates wrote a letter to the Transportation Planning Board asking it to uphold its vote and not approve this project until these concerns are addressed.

I very much appreciate the members of the Transportation Planning Board and leaders of this region who understand that we are constructively engaged in trying to solve the problem, and they supported our position with their votes. I also appreciate the community activists and political leaders, including four of our County Councilmembers, led by Councilmember Evan Glass at the TPB and joined by Council President Tom Hucker and Councilmembers Sidney Katz and Will Jawando, who have been engaged on this issue. Many of the leaders joined me for a rally this week to explain the issue, and we will continue to work toward an actual solution and to help the members of the Board of Public Works understand our concerns.

Over the past few weeks, I have also been talking and working with Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater, including a two-hour negotiation just last week, to try to remove the final implementation issues. We have been raising these issues for quite sometime, including last November, when the entire County Council joined me in raising concerns about the project.

To be clear: from the beginning I have never said “no,” it has always been about “how.” My job is to protect our communities and the environment and to ensure that mega projects are designed as cost effectively as possible. I hope you will read my piece published this week in The Washington Post that explains my position and reasons for opposing the State’s current plan.

I think the Baltimore Sun editorial board got it right when it wrote, “ . . . there’s also something to be said for the just-as-vital process of building a regional consensus over such a huge, potentially disruptive and controversial project as the Capital Beltway/I-270 plan. Better to seek further compromise than jam this down Montgomery County’s throat.”

I will continue to work with the State along with our Councilmembers, State and Congressional delegations, and most importantly, our impacted residents and commuters who use I-270, the Beltway and the American Legion Bridge.

Recognizing the loss of some who were experiencing homelessness

Earlier this week, I joined County Councilmembers to memorialize some of our neighbors who died in 2020 and 2021 while experiencing homelessness. During the course of the pandemic, we had six homeless individuals die of COVID-19, a far lower number than we anticipated when the pandemic started. Because too often homeless individuals are invisible, we wanted to acknowledge their humanity. They will be missed and mourned by friends, family and those who worked to help them find stability. We cannot continue to accept conditions that lead to homelessness, including housing costs that are unaffordable and wages that do not cover necessities.

Each year, we hope there will not be a need for a service such as this, and it is my goal to end chronic homelessness in Montgomery County. Experiencing homelessness should be only rare, brief and non-recurring if it happens at all. Unfortunately, we have not reached that point. Our nonprofit partners in the Interagency Commission on Homelessness are working closely with the Montgomery County's Health and Human Services Department to end and prevent homelessness so we can continue to move closer to net zero chronic homelessness.

We must work toward a day when no one dies while living on the street or in a shelter.

Cheering for our local Olympic stars

On a more upbeat note, I want to acknowledge the start of the Olympics this week and note that Montgomery County has six athletes who will be participating in this year’s Games in Tokyo.

Swimming superstar Katie Ledecky will continue her quest to break her own records, and we will be rooting for wrestler Helen Maroulis, who also is returning to the Games. The newcomers to the Olympics from Montgomery County are swimmers Phoebe Bacon and Andrew Wilson and gymnast Kayla DiCello, who is an alternate. In addition, Kennedy High School graduate Thea LaFond will represent the Caribbean nation of Dominica in the long jump. I hope all of you will tune in and cheer for these incredible hometown athletes.

As always, thank you for your support and your understanding.

With appreciation.

Marc Elrich
County Executive

COVID-19 Update: Vaccination Rate Hits 76.8 Percent, But Delta Variant Is In the County

The percent of Montgomery County total residents that have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccination reached 76.8 percent, according to statistics updated Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with 70 percent fully vaccinated. However, the infection rate in the County has slightly increased as the Delta variant has become evident in the community.

CDC statistics differ somewhat from statistics kept by the State of Maryland. The CDC includes County residents regardless of where they received their vaccinations. Maryland statistics only include residents who were vaccinated in the State.

Despite the high rate of vaccination in Montgomery County, there are still many adults and adolescents who have not been vaccinated. In addition, children under the age of 12 are too young to be vaccinated. This can create a risk for a new rise in infections, particularly with the new variants, including the Delta variant. The variant currently accounts for more than one in every five COVID-19 cases in the United States.

Vaccination remains the best defense to prevent a surge of the Delta variant. A Washington Post story explaining more about the variant can be viewed at https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/07/07/delta-variant-covid/

To learn more about how to get a vaccination, go to www.GoVaxMoco.com.
State VaxU Incentive Scholarships for 12-17-Year-Olds Continue Through Labor Day

Maryland recently launched the VaxU scholarship program, a $1 million incentive program to encourage 12-17-year-olds to get vaccinated against COVID-19. To qualify, students must live and be vaccinated in Maryland. The first two scholarship winners were Montgomery County residents.

Two winners will be drawn at random each week for eight weeks until Labor Day. Each winner will receive a $50,000 scholarship for full tuition and fees at any public, in-state institution of higher learning. The program will conclude with four winners selected on Labor Day, Sept. 6.

For more information, visit https://mhec.maryland.gov/Pages/vaxU-scholarship-promotion.aspx.

A Few COVID-19 Facts and Details
  • For an online record of your COVID-19 vaccination, view your account at Maryland MyIR. MyIR is Maryland's online immunization record system.
  • People who have had COVID-19 still need to be vaccinated.
  • Testing remains important for those unvaccinated, those traveling and anyone who may have symptoms.
  • The COVID-19 Call Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 240-777-2982 for answers to COVID-19 questions.

County Executive Elrich Visiting Businesses as Montgomery Celebrates ‘Small Business Summer'

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is visiting businesses throughout the County this summer to see how they have persisted throughout the COVID-19 health crisis and how they can be helped during the recovery as the County celebrates “Small Business Summer.”

Throughout the summer, the County’s economic development assistance programs will continue to help small businesses with their future needs. The County will be sharing news of new businesses as well as recognizing legacy businesses and businesses marking milestone anniversaries.

“The backbone of our County's economy is small and family-owned businesses and they have had a very difficult year,” said County Executive Elrich. “We want to engage these businesses, promote them, and do everything in our power and resources to help them recover economically. We need to support them this summer and year-round—especially this year. I encourage all Montgomery County residents and visitors to patronize our small and family-owned business, help them succeed and keep our money in our community.”

As part of the celebration, County Executive Elrich is visiting commercial areas and local businesses throughout the summer months to encourage the community to buy and shop local. Business spotlights will be promoted on the County’s Twitter and Facebook pages.

County Executive Elrich launched the initiative by visiting Shop Local, a retail incubator in Rockville Town Center funded in part by the County through the Maryland Women’s Business Center with six businesses selling specialty gifts and foods (Sweet by Caroline, Amaya Accessories, Costa Cosmetics, Lamimi Boutique, Chocolicious, Yul D’UZ). Afterward, he met with Nature by Trejok and Saint Valley, two of the incubator’s graduates who now have their own stores nearby.

“It is time to get out and take your family to local parks and cultural venues, patronize local restaurants and other businesses that have worked hard over the past 15 months,” said County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Jerome Fletcher. “Residents must continue to be safe, but it is also time to start enjoying the quality of life that is so valuable here in Montgomery County.”

The Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, Visit Montgomery and area chambers of commerce are partnering in the initiative to #RediscoverMoCo and celebrate #SmallBizSummer.

Business owners are encouraged to Share Your Story to be a part of this summer celebration of local businesses. To do that, go to https://seam.ly/vd61zTDS.

For more business resources, visit the Montgomery County Business Portal at montgomerycountymd.gov/biz.

COVID-19 Rent Relief Program Continues to Provide Assistance to Those Impacted Financially by COVID-19

Montgomery County’s COVID-19 Rent Relief Program is continuing to provide short-term rental assistance to eligible households that have experienced a financial hardship/loss due to the COVID-19 health crisis and have fallen behind on their rent. The program does not have an application deadline. It will end when all available funds are distributed.

The program is managed by the County's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) with funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury's Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

While funds are available, the program will provide up to $12,000 to eligible households to pay back rent owed and/or pay for up to three months of future rent. For households below 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), additional financial help may be available. Funds awarded will take into account any other local, State or Federal assistance received to pay rent.

To apply for assistance, complete the application that can be found at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/HHS-Program/SNHS/rent-relief.html.

Those unable to complete the online application by themselves or with assistance from their property manager or landlord can call 311 (240-777-0311) to request help. A County employee will follow-up to help with application completion.

Households must meet the following minimum eligibility requirements to be eligible for assistance:
  • Have experienced a financial hardship/loss due to COVID-19
  • Gross household income from previous 30 days or 2020 tax return at or below 50 percent of AMI
  • Have been a Montgomery County resident since at least August 2020
  • Owe at least $1,000 or more to the current landlord
The application will require the applicant to answer questions about the COVID-related impact, household members, income and rent. Applicants should be prepared to upload supporting documents and have their landlord's information available. An email address will be needed to complete the application. Residents without an email address should consider setting one up or connecting with their property manager or landlord or someone who can provide assistance.

Residents who are behind in rent and have been told by their landlord that they must leave their apartments should know that only a sheriff, with a court order, can evict a resident. Tenants can reach out to the County’s Department of Landlord and Tenant Affairs at 240-777-0311 and the Police Department non-emergency line at 301-279-8000. Additional information is available on the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) COVID-19 website.

County Executive Elrich Champions Legislation That Would Make County First in Nation to Establish ‘BEPS’ Energy Saving Standards for Buildings

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has proposed new legislation (Bill 16-21) that will expand the number of buildings covered by the County’s Benchmarking Law and require the use of less energy. The County Council is now considering the bill. If it is approved, Montgomery will become the first county in the nation to establish a Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) policy that sets a minimum energy performance threshold for existing buildings.

County Executive Elrich’s backing of the innovative bill supports the County’s climate goals and is a foundational policy in the County’s Climate Action Plan. Bill 16-21 will modify the County’s current Benchmarking Law to include additional County-owned, commercial and multifamily buildings and establish long-term BEPS for those buildings.

“Energy use in the building sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Montgomery County, representing almost 50 percent of total community-wide emissions,” said County Executive Elrich. “As highlighted in the recently released Climate Action Plan, BEPS is one of the most powerful policy tools available to drive energy improvements and emission reductions in existing buildings. If we’re serious about tackling the County’s Climate Emergency, then BEPS is a necessary step to achieving our goals of zero GHG emissions by 2035.”

In 2014, Montgomery established the first County-level benchmarking law for County-owned and commercial buildings that were 50,000 square feet and above to annually track and report building and energy performance to the County’s Department of Environmental Protection. Bill 16-21 would expand the number of buildings covered by the current Benchmarking Law and require them to use less energy and become more efficient. This is one of the most effective ways to reduce energy demand and carbon pollution from the built environment as the County tackles its ambitious climate change goals.

Montgomery County currently has more than 5,000 commercial and multifamily properties that cover more than 288 million square feet of rentable building area. The County’s commercial building stock is primarily made up of office, multifamily and retail buildings. Commercial buildings account for 26 percent of community-wide greenhouse gas emissions in the County.

“This is thoughtful legislation drafted after years of consultation with building owners and efficiency experts,” said DEP Director Adam Ortiz. “With advances in technology and smart policies, BEPS is a critical step to meeting the urgency of the climate crisis.”

The new BEPS legislation would cover commercial and multifamily buildings that are 25,000 gross square feet and greater. It would require building owners to meet targets to improve energy performance, balances flexibility and certainty for owners with immediate action required by the County’s climate goals and offers technical assistance for building owners.

County Executive Elrich unveiled his Climate Action Plan on June 23. The plan will guide the County toward its goals of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent by 2027 and by 100 percent by 2035 compared to 2005 levels. The Montgomery climate plan, which will increase resilience in the face of climate hazards, is one of the most ambitious climate plans in the nation for a local government. The details of the plan can be found at www.MontgomeryCountyMD.gov/climate.

For more information on BEPS, visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/green/energy/beps.html

Free ‘Movies in the Parks' Series Continues With ‘Remember the Titans’ on Friday, July 23, at Jesup Blair Park in Silver Spring

The Montgomery Parks series of free outdoor movies will continue at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 23, with the screening of Remember the Titans at Jesup Blair Local Park in Silver Spring.

Jesup Blair Local Park is located at 900 Jesup Blair Dr. It is just off Georgia Avenue near the border of the District of Columbia.

Seating begins at 8 p.m. The movie will be shown on the sports field behind the historic building. The movies will be shown on the grass, so movie goers should bring blankets, towels or lawn chairs to set up their own spots. Tents, hammocks and items that may obstruct a movie-goer’s view are prohibited.

The first 50 attendees to stop by the Montgomery Parks table will receive a free picnic blanket.

Free parking is available at Jesup Blair Local Park and in the Montgomery Community College parking garage across the street on Jesup Blair Drive. The rain date is Sunday, July 25.

For the Friday night showings, Montgomery Parks is partnering with the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, who will be on-site throughout the evening to keep the event safe. Some officers will be on horseback to show off their trusted animal companions and will be bringing a police vehicle to offer tours to interested residents.

The future schedule for the series includes Coco being shown at South Germantown Recreational Park on Friday, Aug. 27, and Enchanted being shown at Fairland Recreational Park on Friday, Sept. 24.

More information about the movie series is available at https://www.montgomeryparks.org/event-team/movies-in-the-parks/.

Registration Is Open for Events in 2021 Maryland Senior Olympics, With Montgomery County Hosting Many

The Maryland Senior Olympics (MSO) are officially underway and registration is open for many events that will take place through October. Montgomery County will host numerous events.

Each year, men and women, ages 50 and older, from Maryland jurisdictions participate in age-group competitions in sports including archery, track and field, swimming, tennis, golf, cycling, softball, shuffleboard, 3-on-3 basketball, croquet and pickleball. The complete list of sports can be found at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/rec/activitiesandprograms/seniors/seniorolympics.html.

To participate in MSO, competitors do not have to be seasoned athletes or champions in training. Entrants only have to be age 50 or older and willing to participate. The MSO's motto is, "To Participate is to Win." There is a nominal fee to compete in most events.

The Maryland Senior Olympics Commission highly recommends athletes be fully vaccinated prior to participation. The Senior Olympics will follow guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Participants may enter as many sports as their schedule allows. Events will be conducted in men’s and women’s divisions in each of the following age groups: 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70-74, 75-79, 80-84, 85-89, 90-94, 95-99 and 100-plus.

Competition will be offered in three team sports: 3-on-3 half-court basketball, softball and volleyball. The age groups for these competitions will be 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70-74 and 75-plus. There will be an 80-and-over category only for 3-on-3 basketball. The youngest member of the team as of Dec. 31, 2021 will determine the age division in which the team competes.

Among the upcoming events is the track and field competition that will be held Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 7-8, at the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in Landover.

The Maryland Senior Olympics is a member of the National Senior Games Association and Montgomery County Recreation serves as the host agency. Other partners include Montgomery Parks and Howard County Recreation & Parks.

Many of the Maryland athletes will advance to the national games scheduled to take place in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The 2021 National Senior Games are postponed until May 2022 due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 health crisis.

MSO was created in 1980 through joint efforts of the Baltimore County and Maryland State commissions on Physical Fitness. Following the retirement of its two long-time leaders, Bob Zeigler and Bob Eickenberg, the games needed a new home, and in 2007 the torch was passed to Montgomery County.

For more information about registration or the events, visit the Maryland Senior Olympic website.

County Executive Elrich Joins State and Local Leaders, Community Advocates in Demanding Improvements to State’s I-495/I-270 Plan


Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich earlier this week in Rockville joined Maryland State Senator Cheryl Kagan, State Delegate Jared Solomon, Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton and numerous community advocates to demand improvements to the Maryland Department of Transportation’s proposed I-495/I-270 Managed Lane study. The following day, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Transportation Planning Board (TPB) voted to support the proposed plan, but there may be additional options to have it improved as advocates are suggesting.

The TPB, which includes representatives of jurisdictions from around the Washington Region, voted against the current plan in June, but this week reversed its previous decision.

Among the community advocacy organizations joining this week’s rally to ask for improvements in the plan were the Sierra Club, DontWiden270.org, Citizens Against Beltway Expansion (CABE), the League of Women Voters and the Environmental Justice Ministry.

This week’s rally can be viewed at https://youtu.be/KfPeGOJLkCs. Photos from the event can be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/montgomerycountymd/albums/72157719565693703.

“Montgomery County’s position on improvements to the Beltway and Interstate 270 has never been ‘no’,” said County Executive Elrich. “It has always been about finding the most efficient, effective and environmentally friendly way to reduce traffic congestion. There are two major problems with the Governor’s plan: the layout and the financing. These problems can be solved more efficiently and cost effectively by building two reversible lanes now and set back bridge abutments to accommodate future additional lanes if needed. In addition, we must make significant investments in mass transit, including bus-rapid transit, to reduce congestion and improve time for commuters getting off I-495. Our plan is not a ‘no,’ but it does factor in the concerns and input from residents. That is what we have asked for from day one.”

At this week’s rally, those advocating to improve the plan said Governor Hogan, through the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), continues to advance his proposal to add four private toll lanes to I-495 and I-270. Approval from the Transportation Planning Board was sought to enter into an agreement with a private partner for the project and to formally commence the design. In exchange for fronting the costs to build the toll lanes, a selected private entity will set toll pricing and collect income from the tolls over the next 50 years.

Elected officials and residents agreed that Montgomery County, as well as jurisdictions around the region, need transportation solutions to address the congestion around—and the structural condition—of the American Legion Bridge. However, they also said that the State has not completed the basic analysis of project benefits and impacts needed to make an informed decision. The concerned groups also said that MDOT has not conducted a project financial analysis to conclude that a decades-long obligation of public right-of-way for private commercial activity is necessary to serve the public interest.

Major project design and environmental study flaws cited against the project include:
  • Lack of meaningful assessment of incremental improvements and management strategies for the highways and the assessment of specific transit services supporting travel in the corridors. These omissions eliminate the ability for the public and the TPB to understand what options, other than four privately financed toll lanes, that could improve these corridors, by how much and at what cost.
  • The decision to break the I-270 corridor into two pieces is ineffective as it will exacerbate the bottleneck at I-370.
  • Lack of a comprehensive plan. Montgomery County has consistently encouraged the acceleration of the study of I-270 north of I-370 so that a comprehensive plan could be considered, and commute relief provided, for those in northern Montgomery and Frederick County. To date, the State has not advanced this work, so these critical information gaps persist.
  • Lack of evidence for a P3 financing plan. Without continuing congestion, there is a fear that not enough people will pay to use the priced lanes, and toll use will be too low to provide the required return to the toll lane operator. This motivation encourages operating the toll lanes far below their capacity to maintain congestion to push drivers to use the toll lanes. The draft environmental impact statement confirms the concerns by showing the toll-free lanes overwhelmed in most segments. This creates a massive equity problem for those who are unable to afford or otherwise access the toll lanes.
  • MDOT is inappropriately incentivized to develop this project. It could cost MDOT nearly $200 million to stop the work, which is a powerful incentive to continue the project even if the project does not make sense for Montgomery County and the rest of the region. MDOT has already committed more than $140 million to this program. Entering into a Predevelopment Agreement with a developer will result in as much as $54 million more just for Phase 1 South. MDOT is likely to bear these costs unless the project is built.
  • Contracting with a commercial entity that will benefit more from building a bigger project introduces inappropriate influence on the outcomes, further jeopardizing the assessment of the public interest by the TPB.
  • The State does not provide an unbiased comparison of public toll financing in comparison to private toll financing. A wide range of financial strategies are available to the State (e.g. federal infrastructure and bridge programs, changes to current trust fund sources, vehicle-miles-traveled charges, etc.). The private partner is merely fronting money that our citizens will need to repay, along with profits above and beyond the cost of borrowing the money.
  • The draft environmental impact statement notes that if MDOT has underestimated construction costs, the state may be required to subsidize the project as much as $998 million and that subsidy would “typically be paid to the developer at the beginning of the contract.”

County Welcomes BioNTech to Gaithersburg for U.S. Manufacturing Facility

German-based BioNTech has announced that it will soon be joining Montgomery County’s growing list of world-renowned international companies in the “Immunology Capital Next to the Nation’s Capital.” BioNTech is acquiring a Gaithersburg manufacturing facility and cell therapy research and development platform from Kite, a unit of Gilead Sciences, to support the development of BioNTech’s expanding pipeline of novel cell therapies.

With its widely used Pfizer-partnered COVID-19 vaccine, BioNTech has recently risen to international prominence and is looking to add an innovative neoantigen T-cell receptor (TCR) therapy to its portfolio of cutting-edge individualized cancer therapies. BioNTech’s new Montgomery County manufacturing plant will increase the company’s cell therapy production to strengthen its supply for U.S. clinical trials of its cancer treatments.

In addition to accelerating BioNTech’s work in its promising cancer cell therapy research, the deal gives the company a life sciences manufacturing footprint in Montgomery County, home of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which includes the National Cancer Institute. BioNTech is expected to retain the existing workers at the site and hire additional employees there.

“We are proud that BioNTech has selected Montgomery County as the location to expand its operations,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “We are one of the nation’s top life sciences clusters and our proximity to the FDA and NIH, along with our high-quality workforce, makes us the ideal place for expansion. BioNTech joins a growing list of companies that have recognized that great things are happening in Montgomery County.”

BioNTech is the latest international attraction of life sciences companies that have chosen Montgomery County for its local opportunities for growth and prospective partnerships. Recent international attractions have included Aurinia Pharmaceuticals (Canada), Genetron Health (China), Innovent Biologics (China) and Nobelpharma (Japan). They joined global leaders like AstraZeneca (UK), GlaxoSmithKline (UK), Qiagen (Germany), Ascentage Pharma (China) and Macrogen (South Korea) that are already located in Montgomery County.

“When a global leader such as BioNTech selects Montgomery County as the U.S. location to fulfill its next generation manufacturing capabilities, it signals our growing maturation as a world immunology capital,” said Benjamin H. Wu, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation.. “We look forward to supporting BioNTech’s expansion plans and seeing their promising cancer therapies come to fruition.”

County Department of Transportation Awarded Grant for New Hampshire Avenue Safety Study

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) has awarded the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) a grant for a safety study along New Hampshire Avenue (MD 650) from Oakview Drive to Southampton Drive. The grant, totaling $60,000, was a joint submittal with the Prince George’s Department of Public Works and Transportation. A portion of New Hampshire Avenue, from Northampton Drive to Southampton Drive, is within Prince George’s County.

The study will include recommendations for safety improvements to enhance the corridor for people who walk, bike and use transit.

The TPB is the federally designated metropolitan planning organization for metropolitan Washington, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Grants from the TPB support pedestrian, bicyclist, transit and traffic safety improvements that align with the County’s Vision Zero initiative. The TPB is housed at and staffed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).

“For far too long, traffic on New Hampshire Avenue at the Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties’ line has been dangerous for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “I appreciate the coordination and partnership with our neighbors in Prince George’s County and I am thankful to the TPB for this much needed grant that will improve the safety for all those who live, travel and do business in this corridor.”

The New Hampshire Avenue project area has been identified as an Equity Emphasis Area, which identifies communities that have significant concentrations of minority populations that are traditionally underserved. Additionally, the project area is a “High Injury Network” for both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, meaning the number of crashes is disproportionately high compared to other areas.

“MCDOT continues to advance our Vision Zero initiatives using a variety of funding sources,” said MCDOT Director Chris Conklin. “I am proud of the work we are doing to identify and secure funding for projects which are necessary to make the County safer for everyone.”

Multiple agencies expressed their support for MCDOT’s grant application. Letters were sent by the  Montgomery County Executive, the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), the Prince George’s Department of Public Works and Transportation and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

“We appreciate the support we have received from our partner agencies,” said Conklin. “This State roadway has a considerable impact on the County roads and communities that border it. I am confident we will find many opportunities for improvements in this area and working together, we will improve safety for all users.”

The study will take place in Fiscal Year 2022, which started on July 1, 2021. A final version is expected by spring of 2022.

After the study concludes, the next step will be for MCDOT and MDOT SHA to agree on the recommendations, partner on a design plan and identify a construction mechanism. MDOT SHA has indicated it is interested in making safety improvements in this area and expressed support for the grant application. However, design and construction funds for the project have not yet been committed.