Opinion: Montgomery County Beyond Amazon

That Amazon is looking at White Flint for HQ2 is a testament to Montgomery County’s schools, workforce, housing, transportation network, and amenities: today’s and 2050’s. We’re playing the long game here. An Amazon investment would be a commitment to a shared future and a recognition that we have the capacity to grow together. I hope Amazon chooses Montgomery County. The unparalleled economic growth will benefit current residents and businesses if managed well. If not managed well, Amazon will add to the congestion, school overcrowding, affordable housing shortage, and county-revenue crunch we have been confronting, and trying to surmount, for a decade or more. The risks — including the likelihood that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) would use a positive Amazon choice as a reason to double-down on environmentally destructive, demand-inducing, solve-nothing road projects — behoove us to look now at the range of implications.  Think of the proposed White Flint location as ground zero. The impact will ripple out from there, regionally. Let’s manage the impact via sensible transportation and planning choices. Here are seven: –Upgrade MARC Brunswick Line rail service. The Brunswick Line runs between Union Station and, to the north and west, Martinsburg, W.Va., and Frederick. It provides commuter service — in-bound in the morning, out-bound in the afternoon — and bypasses White Flint with nearest stations in Rockville and Garrett Park. Let’s advance planning of a White Flint-area station and add the third set of tracks needed for all-day bi-directional service along the extent of the line. We’ll relieve I-270 current congestion and we’ll support Amazon and other area commuters. –Advance planning of the North Bethesda Transitway, which would link White Flint to Montgomery Mall via Old Georgetown Road and the Rock Spring office park, using an existing 40-foot-wide transit easement. With an Amazon win, we should plan to extend service down the I-270 spur and the Beltway, south across the American Legion bridge into northern Virginia with a link to Metrorail at Tysons Corner, as shown in the map below. This step will also relieve current I-270 congestion, and it will help us put to rest definitively the call for an additional Potomac bridge crossing and highway corridor across the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve. The North Bethesda Transitway bus rapid transit route would link White Flint to Montgomery Mall, extendable down I-270 and the Beltway to the Tysons Corner Metro station (map author unknown). –Prepare to reopen the Rock Spring Sector Plan. Amazon obviates the March 2017 plan, which the County Council approved only last November. That plan provides a revitalization vision for an outmoded office park with a current 23 percent vacancy rate that is projected to rise to 39 percent when Marriott relocates to downtown Bethesda. There’s nothing wrong with it, but the January Amazon HQ2 shortlist announcement upends it: Rock Spring is only two miles from White Flint. Rock Spring can absorb Amazon spill-over office needs and Rock Spring’s current acres of surface parking are prime for mixed-use commercial-residential redevelopment. –Relook and reinforce our commitment to revitalize the Rockville Pike corridor heading north, the numerous outmoded strip malls and suburban-style office buildings, by updating the 2010 White Flint Sector Plan and the 2017 White Flint 2 Sector Plan in light of Amazon’s projected impact.  Seth Grimes –Launch a Smart Roadways initiative to apply AI and sensor technology to add capacity and speed trips in our existing road network. –Pioneer forward-looking building, utility, and waste-management rules in the target areas: energy net-zero construction that won’t overtax the power grid; charging facilities for electric vehicles; low parking minimums, anticipating that autonomous vehicles don’t require on-site parking; and zero-waste policies centering on waste reduction, 100 percent recycling participation, a requirement that all single-use food-service disposables be compostable, and food-waste/organics collection for composting. –Channel future growth east, to urbanizing areas that can accommodate and benefit from retail, office, and residential growth. I’m thinking about downtown Wheaton and I’m thinking especially about East County: White Oak, Burtonsville, Fairland, and Hillandale. Enough with the dead and dying mall! A why-isn’t-anyone-talking-about-this? point: East County growth is naturally linked to Baltimore-Washington International Airport rather than to Dulles. East County growth will benefit Prince George’s and Howard counties, making it a natural for State of Maryland assistance and investment. We also have to start thinking NOW how and where we’re going to add school capacity. Schools in the Richard Montgomery and Walter Johnson clusters and other nearby areas are already at or over capacity. Now’s the time to discuss transportation, planning, and infrastructure needs, so that we’re ready to greet a positive Amazon announcement with transit and sensible-growth solutions. SETH GRIMESThe writer, a former Takoma Park city councilman, is a Democratic candidate for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council.

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