Peabody award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Montgomery County, Maryland, Gets Closer to Having a True BRT System
Thursday, May 05, 2011 - 10:00 AM
(Montgomery County, MD -- Matt Bush, WAMU) Council members in Montgomery County, Md., received an update on plans to build Bus Rapid Transit lines in the county this week. The price tag for the plan is high, but at least one County Council member says it must be built because Montgomery County is losing the transit battle with its neighbors.
The proposed bus lines aren't the traditional routes you see now. They would be rapid buses that would use county roads but have their own lanes, so stopping because of traffic would be minimal.
And the buses look different too. They're low to the ground, resembling something that looks more like a rail car, according to Michael Flood, with the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.
"It's not your father's bus. It's not the bus many of us have known. It's a sleek vehicle," he says.
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One of the 16 proposed rapid bus routes would run here along Veirs Mill Road, between the Rockville and Wheaton Metrorail stations. Many of the routes would connect Metrorail stations on the Red Line. Veirs Mills Road already has lanes that buses can now use that are not open to through traffic, so Flood says it would be easy to put rapid buses here quickly and reach the goal of at least 10,000 riders daily on the nearly seven-mile route.
"Veirs Mill Road, we could see 84 percent of that ridership by 2020 because most of those land uses are already in place," he says.
But there is a high price for the whole plan: Flood estimates it at $2.5 billion.
"Total route miles is about 148 miles, with about 150 identified stations," Flood says.
County Council member Marc Elrich has long been a supporter of a rapid bus system in the county, and he says lawmakers cannot run from a giant price tag, saying that didn't happen with the Dulles Rail project in Northern Virginia.
"We're looking at a project across the river, and you'll see a $2.5 billion project that was turned around in virtually no time coming out of the ground already. And it will open the doors for them to do the kinds of things we would like to do," Elrich says. "We need to do something relatively bold if we are going to keep ourselves on the map."
Getting money will be difficult, as the state of Maryland is already pushing the federal government for one mass transit project in the county, the Purple Line. Once that is completed, the fight for the Corridor Cities Transitway, another mass transit project that will mostly serve Montgomery County, is expected to start.