Streams

Is BRT Coming to D.C. Suburbs?

Friday, July 13, 2012 - 03:41 PM

(Washington, D.C. - WAMU) Officials in Montgomery County, Md. are considering approving the construction of a $1.8 billion bus rapid transit system that would be composed of  23 BRT corridors and take as many as 20 years to build in three phases.

Listen to this full radio story here.

The county's transit task force envisions designated bus lanes hauling at least an estimated 165,000 commuters daily. But that vision is making some county residents squint.

"Every proposal has had one thing in common: disrupt our neighborhoods to make it a shorter, easier commute for those living farther out to drive along Route 29," says county resident James Williamson, who testified at a public hearing before the task force Thursday night.  "None have ever worked. This one won't either."

Skeptics question whether BRT will really ease traffic congestion on Montgomery County's clogged roads, because there will be fewer lanes available for car traffic. The dedicated lanes devoted to the bus corridors will have traffic signal priority, with lights synchronized to allow buses to travel through many intersections without a red light.

Resident James Zepp, who once sat on transportation advisory committees for the D.C. and federal governments, says there are too many unknowns in the plan for him to feel confident it'll be worth the investment -- and the higher taxes that could result.

"These important operational aspects that the task force chose not to address that could increase congestion across the county," says Zepp.

Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, testified in favor of BRT, calling it an essential component of the county's transportation future, along with Metro and the Purple Line project.

"Interconnecting and expanding transit for Montgomery County residents and workers, enhancing access to jobs, addressing traffic, improving energy efficiency and maintaining economic competitiveness," says Schwartz.

The task force is actually calling its plan RTV, for rapid transit vehicle, instead of BRT. Either way, the system will be expensive to operate with projected yearly costs of $176 million, or about $1 million per mile.

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