As Montgomery County’s population continues to expand, there are too many commuters who drive too fast on Montgomery County’s roads. There are not enough safe places for pedestrians to walk and the growing presence of deer in urban and suburban areas makes roads even more hazardous for drivers.
Such were the sentiments expressed by many local citizens when County Executive Ike Leggett (D) hosted a town hall meeting at Potomac United Methodist Church on Thursday, Sept. 27.
Transportation concerns took center stage as Leggett hosted his ninth such community question-and-answer session since he took office last fall. The telltale signs of an overburdened transportation system can be seen on Falls Road, said Flora Eshaghi of Potomac.
"Falls Road right now is a very dangerous place," Eshaghi said. Drivers constantly speed on the road, disobeying the posted speed limit because such signs are too infrequent and not well-marked, Eshaghi said. The problem is the worst on the stretch of Falls Road between Democracy Boulevard and Potomac Village, she said. Eshaghi said that the road needs more signs and more police enforcement.
"We do have a problem in Montgomery County with speeding, which is a challenge to us," said Leggett. "We now have speed cameras in Montgomery County. We’re making an awful lot of money because people are speeding." Leggett said that he has been shocked by the high volume of people who continue to be caught for speeding, even in areas that are listed on the county’s Web site as having speed cameras.
"I’m appalled by the level of speeding in school zones," Leggett said. "Keep that in mind, if you speed we’re going to catch you."
NINE YEARS ago, when Leggett was a member of the Montgomery County Council, he went on a walking tour of Potomac Village to view the incomplete, fragmented network of sidewalks. He pledged then to make the situation better. Work has been done since then, said Potomac resident Clayton Embrey, but the job is not finished.
"We still do not have a sidewalk connecting the post office on River Road and the Chevy Chase Bank on River Road and Falls Road," Embrey said. "I continue to see many individuals dangerously walking in River Road due to no sidewalk — this is a serious accident waiting to happen."
"Now that I am back as County Executive I can assure you that we will complete that," said Leggett. "You have my promise now to get it done. It still is a mess."
Finishing sidewalks would be the best way to ensure pedestrian safety, Leggett said, but minimizing their commutes by building more densely in certain areas will help as well.
One man asked Leggett, "When are we going to start building up, not out?"
"We will go up," Leggett said. "The reason we’re going to do that is we want to preserve some of the rural areas of the sounty and the [Agricultural] Reserve. What you will see [around Twinbrook, Rockville, and Shady Grove Metro stations] will be a huge amount of development."
Such high-density development is the smarter way to build than the suburban sprawl that has defined the county’s growth for many years, Leggett said.
As the county has expanded into once rural areas to build new subdivisions and communities, animals such as deer are a constant presence in new neighborhoods.
"Things have gotten almost impossible," said Rosemary Stambler of Potomac.
Leggett said that the county is doing what it can to prevent deer from causing car accidents but that their options are limited because the deer have little habitat left.
AS THE STATE of Maryland faces a budget deficit next year in excess of $1 billion, Montgomery County itself is looking at a projected deficit in excess of $200 million.
"That is a large, large amount of money," said Leggett.
The county’s problem is likely to be exacerbated by a cut in state aid as the state looks to make ends meet, Leggett said. The state is also likely to raise income taxes, a move that will have a disproportionate effect on Montgomery County, said Leggett.
"Fifty-five percent of the proposed increase will come from Montgomery County," said Leggett. "My view is that that is too much."
The solution at both the state and the county levels will be to determine where services can be reduced and to find ways to create new revenues. The imminent belt-tightening will also mean that the county will have to set spending priorities.
"With all of your shortfalls in the money, I have a lot of sympathy for you, I really do," said August Spector of the Fox Hills West neighborhood of Potomac. Spector said that as the county sets its spending priorities, one way it could save some money would be to decline a request of many Fox Hills neighborhood residents to add a stretch of sidewalk along Falls Chapel Way. The issue of whether or not to add the span of sidewalk has divided the neighborhood in recent months.
"Take the $100,000 for that short sidewalk and put it into Falls Road and River Road," said Spector.
Scott Reilly of the County's Department of Public Works and Transportation acted as the hearing commissioner for two public hearings in the matter and said that he will pass his findings along to Leggett in the near future, at which point Leggett will decide the outcome of the issue.
LEGGETT ADDRESSED some non-transportation related questions at Thursday’s meeting. One woman asked Leggett if the county would follow through the promises it has made in the past to renovate Scotland Community Center. Leggett said that Scotland Community Center is among several smaller centers in the county in need of renovation.
"The question is, ‘How are we going to finance all of this,’" said Leggett. "I think Scotland is at the top of the list."
Another woman asked if Leggett would consider removing a statue of a Confederate soldier next to the old red-brick courthouse in downtown Rockville.
"We don’t want to deny our past. We treasure our history, but we don’t want to sacrifice our future," the woman said.
Leggett said that when South Carolina revised their state flag to remove the Confederate symbol from it several years ago, he was outspoken in his support of the change. He does not feel as strongly about the soldier’s statue, and said that he did not think it would be appropriate to remove such a historical artifact.
"There is a fine line between what is outright offensive and [what is] history," Leggett said.