Dan Reed lives in Silver Spring but works in Bethesda. Like many county residents his commute to work each day is a drive that doesn’t cover a long distance — maybe 10 miles in Reed’s case — but takes a frustratingly long time.
Most of the 300 people who attended a town meeting with newly elected County Executive Ike Leggett last week shared Reed’s concerns on congestion.
“I want it to not take me an hour to get to Bethesda from where I live,” said Reed. To that end, he is highly supportive of the proposed Purple Line Metro project. The Purple Line would run parallel to the Capital Beltway and would connect Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrolton with a rail system operated by Metro. The project is a part of the current master plan for Montgomery County, according to newly elected County Executive Ike Leggett (D).
Along with the Intercounty Connector, a limited-access highway project that will link communities between I-270 and I-95, the Purple Line is a project aimed at easing traffic congestion in the region. It is also a contentious issue which cannot be addressed without simultaneously looking at the County’s current rate of population growth and development, which Leggett says are too high right now.
“My job as County Executive is to implement the Master Plan,” said Leggett on Tuesday at the first of three town hall meetings held across the county. “But if you think that the Purple Line or the [ICC project] alone will take care of [the county’s commuting woes], I’ll tell you you’re sorely mistaken.”
Solutions to traffic congestion, which dominated Tuesday’s session, will require a more holistic approach, Leggett said.
“We can’t simply build our way out of this,” said Leggett, referring to the ICC and Purple Line. Leggett stressed that beyond those two projects, a comprehensive renovation to the county’s infrastructure is necessary to fully address the matter.
The slowing of growth is absolutely necessary, according to Leggett, but so is a thorough upgrade of the county’s current infrastructure. This would include what he termed “a mass infusion of mass transit,” as well in increasing lanes on the county’s roads and highways and undertaking projects that would ease traffic at congested intersections.
“There is not one solution to the problem,” Leggett said. “It’s a combination of things.”
While development and traffic congestion took top billing at Tuesday’s meeting, the crowd of at least 300 citizens, which included County Council members Marc Elrich (D-At Large), Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and Roger Berliner (D-1), broached many other topics as well.
Many residents expressed concern at the amount of standardized testing taking place in the county’s schools and the intensely competitive atmosphere that puts a high amount of stress on even the youngest students.
Alan Chung of Potomac urged increased access to higher education for county residents.
“Montgomery County is one of the best-educated counties in the country,” said Chung. “Is it in your thinking that we could establish a good, low-cost four-year university in Montgomery County?”
Leggett, who was sworn into office on December 4, agreed with Chung that to take advantage of the high level of education and technology in the county such a project would be desirable.
Other questions covered issues of affordable housing, assistance to the senior population and the prevention of Lyme Disease.
Leggett acknowledged that it would be impossible to fully address each problem facing the county, but that he and his staff would work to find long-term solutions to the most pressing matters.
“I’m not interested in quick-fix solutions,” Leggett said. “It’s important to come up with lasting solutions.” Leggett stressed that throughout his administration he would seek public input and would operate his administration transparently.
“We’re going to let you know precisely what we’re doing and I hope when I stand before you eight years from now you’ll say, ‘Job well done.’”