April 26, 2024

Message from the County Executive Marc Elrich


Dear Friends,

Almost six years ago, when Montgomery County lost its bid for Amazon’s second headquarters, I realized that the winning bidders won in large part because of several key factors: access to a talented workforce and training opportunities, graduate-level research and transportation infrastructure. We outbid our neighbors, but Amazon wanted more than money. 

Upon taking office, and despite the distraction of the pandemic, we have maintained the focus on the need for graduate-level research, workforce training, more lab space and better transportation. Below I address progress in each of these areas.

Montgomery College Is Officially in the East County

Doors opened at the new Montgomery College (MC) East County Education Center in White Oak on April 1. Last week, we celebrated with a grand opening celebration. It was particularly exciting for me because this is another of the projects I was determined to get done from Day One as County Executive. You can listen to my comments here. It had been long discussed, but in 2018, when I first came into office, there were no plans to move it forward. My team and I have been committed to a campus in East County, and this is a significant milestone toward having a permanent campus that serves a great need. 

We were committed to this because we knew residents in East County needed more accessible access to college and workforce training. High school students who live in or around East County will now have much easier access. The other MC campuses in Germantown, Rockville and Takoma Park are more difficult to access from East County. 

Opening this branch is an essential part of our workforce development training and helping connect students to employers who need their talents. For example, I toured their health training classroom, which Washington Adventist supports, around the corner from this new center. The hospital is one of many in our region needing more well-trained staff.    

Here is a list of the programs supported at the East County Education Center and information about the credit and noncredit classes offered there.

This project is one more example of the work we are doing and have done in East County. Projects include breathing new life into Burtonsville Crossing, White Oak Town Center improvements, the Hillandale Gateway project and expanding Flash bus service on Route 29. All three of these commercial projects were stalled when I came into office, but after getting personally involved in finding solutions, all of them are moving forward. 

VIVA White Oak has a new partner that is driving development and I am optimistic that visible progress will soon become apparent. We are working on plans to turn US 29 Flash service into a real Bus Rapid Transit line with its own dedicated lane. It is great to see this part of the County getting the attention it has long deserved. 

University of Maryland Institute for Health Computing Update  

Since first becoming County Executive, I have been working on bringing together the right collaborators for the University of Maryland - Institute for Health Computing (UMD-IHC). Through multiple conversations and research, we have facilitated the next step in the program, which is a partnership between the County and UMD.

I visited their offices this week and (as you can see from this picture above) was able to receive a demonstration of their augmented reality technology.  

Montgomery County is the heart of the third-largest bio and life science industry cluster in the nation, just behind the California Bay Area and Boston. However, we were the only top-ranked area without a graduate-level research facility serving the needs of our local companies—until now. The UMD-IHC leverages our strengths and promises to offer an amazing opportunity for research and collaboration with the private sector. 

Just a few weeks ago, the Maryland General Assembly ended its 2024 session with significant funding for the UMD-IHC. I want to thank the Montgomery County State delegation for obtaining $6 million in annual operating costs and $3 million in capital costs from the General Assembly. You can read my full statement following the end of session here.  

Montgomery County has already committed to an initial investment of $40 million in the Institute, and the Federal government has also invested $3 million.  

This great partnership with UMD will lead to healthcare innovations and sustain investment in life sciences here. We are aiming to become the “Silicon Valley of Health Computing.” 

This week, I joined program leaders at Bisnow’s Mid-Atlantic Life Sciences Biotech Summit in Rockville to discuss the future of UMD-IHC, and later that day. I was very pleased to have Dr. Brad Maron, a co-director of the UMD-IHC, join me for my weekly media briefing this week. You can follow this link to hear directly from him about why he and many others are excited about what is to come.

Our progress with the UMD-IHC is one of the main topics I discuss when I am on economic missions in Asia. The people we are meeting with are leaders in life sciences, and many already understand the value of IHC. We have reached several agreements with companies to locate in Montgomery County for their U.S. base of operations. In a few weeks, I will be headed to Korea and China and will be asked about it there, too.

MCDOT and WMATA Work to Ease Congestion During Summer Red Line Shut Down 

I want to thank WMATA (Metro) leaders for being responsive to our concerns about this summer’s Red Line closures and allowing me to be a part of this week’s update on the project.

On June 1, Metrorail stations at Glenmont, Wheaton, Forest Glen, Takoma and Silver Spring will temporarily close. Takoma will reopen after one month, but the other stations will remain closed until Sept. 1 while work is being done—mostly related to Purple Line construction.  

To allow the temporary shuttle buses that will be used while the rail stations are closed to move more quickly on the roads, the State Highway Administration will allow 7½ miles of bus-only lanes and adjust some of the signal timing in the area. The Maryland Transit Administration will offer reduced fares on certain MARC trains and commuter bus services to help address the station closures.  

Last month, the County Council and I wrote to WMATA and the State asking for these types of adjustments, and we are very appreciative of their response. I am hopeful that these changes will help residents impacted by the closures and demonstrate how bus-only lanes can successfully improve challenges on our roads.

You can find information about travel alternatives or learn more about how the closures will impact MCDOT here. 

Earth Day 2024

As “Earth Month” comes to an end, I urge you to consider your daily habits and be more climate conscious. One of the actions taken by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) on Earth Day this past Monday was to waive the normal $1 fare and provide free bus service. We did this to offer residents a chance to try our transit.

Transportation is the greatest contributor to the County’s greenhouse gas emissions with 42 percent coming from this sector alone. Private cars also contribute a great deal as they emit an average of five metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. By choosing public transportation, you can reduce your carbon footprint. It allows you to be able to read or relax and let someone else worry about driving. 

Recognizing the urgency of the climate crisis, MCDOT is committed to a zero-emission future, pledging to a zero-emission bus fleet by 2035. Presently, the County has 14 electric buses with plans to procure an additional 100 electric vehicles over the next three years.   

Montgomery County is considered a pioneer for its green charging infrastructure following the launch of one of the nation’s largest solar-powered microgrids for electric bus charging (Brookville Bus Depot in Silver Spring), with a second microgrid set to launch in Gaithersburg early this summer that will dually power electric and hydrogen buses. 

The initiative was made possible via a Federal grant that will pay for 13 hydrogen buses and the necessary construction for clean hydrogen fueling.

MCDOT offers the Ride On Trip Planner app to facilitate seamless trip planning and access to transit resources throughout the County. The app provides commuters with real-time information and cost-effective travel options. Our County Ride On and Flash buses only cost $1 per ride. Specialized SmarTrip cards are available for seniors, persons with disabilities and kids to allow them to ride for free.  

The collective impact of even small changes in behavior is pivotal in mitigating pollution and alleviating traffic congestion. With the inaugural Flash corridor already operational along US 29 between Downtown Silver Spring and Burtonsville, MCDOT is making the commuter experience modern, easier and faster.

I have been involved in climate action and protests for a very long time, since before the first Earth Day 54 years ago. Warnings about the impacts of greenhouse gas have been around since the 1950s, but we are in this mess today because our leaders did not listen.

The County’s Climate Action Plan of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035 is years ahead of recent benchmarks set by other governments.

When we started, we did not know how we would get there, but we knew that the science was changing. What was possible in 2017 was not going to define what was possible in the future. One thing that is certain is that public support for achieving our goals is essential. We need buy-in and action from the public to help improve our environment.

I do not know how people can say we cannot afford to fight climate change because we sure cannot afford to not deal with climate change. 

It is time to commit to making the changes—biking, public transit, electric vehicles, electric appliances, reducing waste and green energy—that can help us reduce our carbon footprint. We owe it to our children and their children to not ignore the problem, but to tackle it.

Please visit mygreenmontgomery.org to learn how to live a greener lifestyle. Join us for GreenFest on Saturday, April 27. It is the largest annual environmental festival in Montgomery County.

Emphasis on the Environment in Operational Budget Proposal

One of the many challenges we faced when putting together an operating budget for Montgomery County was climate change, which is a threat to our very existence. My recommended 2025 Fiscal Year operating budget includes record funding of $365 million for environmental initiatives and measures to address climate change, including $9 million in new spending.

The money will pay for transit upgrades, increases in renewable energy, improvements in building efficiency and nature-based solutions. For the upcoming year, $19.1 million is recommended for the Montgomery County Green Bank, an increase of half-a-million dollars over the previous budget.

The Green Bank has provided energy savings to 2,500 households and financed projects generating $985,000 in annual savings while also creating nearly 500 jobs. Notably, more than 61 percent of the Green Bank's portfolio is invested in low-and-moderate income and Equity Emphasis Area communities.

More money will be devoted to helping nonprofits and small businesses comply with the County’s forthcoming Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) regulations. I urge the Council to review and approve the new regulations so building owners have ample time to work toward compliance and realize energy savings in their properties.

BEPS will be essential to reduce the carbon footprint of commercial buildings, one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions today.

This budget also will help the County build out our electric vehicle charging infrastructure and accelerate the County’s purchase of zero-emission vehicles. Montgomery County is setting the pace for electric vehicle ownership in Maryland, and businesses and local businesses are helping them. More than 20 car dealers now offer EV incentives, which you can find here.

To bolster our resilience to a rapidly changing climate, we have installed 35 flood sensors, inspected 16,000 stormwater facilities and planted more than 11,000 trees through the Tree Montgomery program. We are improving our waste reduction and recycling with the expansion of materials accepted for reuse and recycling, collection of more than 800,000 pounds of food scraps and engagement of 1,500 homes in our residential food scraps recycling program. These efforts are pivotal as we strive toward our goal of zero waste.

We have made a lot of progress in a short time. We cannot solve the problem of climate change, but we can be a model for our residents, children and other municipalities. “We” means all of us. Government alone cannot solve it. We can clean up our buildings and electrify our fleets, but without your efforts at home, we will not achieve our goals. We can and will help people make the transition, but we need everyone to step up and do their part. Let’s continue moving forward and building on our achievements.

And finally, next Thursday evening, I will give my "State of the County" address in Rockville. You can find more information here.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive