ROCKVILLE – The City Council voted in favor of a $148 million proposed plan to build curbside lanes dedicated to Bus Rapid Transit along Veirs Mill Road Monday.
However, the City Council’s vote is only a recommendation; county and state officials will ultimately determine what happens with the BRT project.
Council members Julie Palakovich Carr, Beryl Feinberg and Mark Pierzchala agreed to support one of three options up for consideration for adding BRT between Rockville and Wheaton Metro stations.
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton abstained from the vote and Council member Virginia Onley did not attend the meeting.
Feinberg said the council had to vote on its preference for next steps of planning so the County could decide how to proceed.
The second-term council member said she supported the third option but that she couldn’t say much about it because it is 5 percent planned so far.
“I support Option 3 but I would like to leave it at that,” she said.
Pierzchala agreed with Feinberg.
“Tonight, all we’re discussing is a preference,” he said. “I think by far Option 3 is superior.”
Newton said she believed the city and contractor were rushing the planning process.
“I think we are not being thoughtful in our rushed judgment about this,” she said.
The mayor said she wanted the city and the state to study all possibilities within the options studied so far before she decided how to vote.
She said she was concerned about the properties that would be harmed or eliminated if the city selected any of the existing plans.
“We are at very big risk of eliminating (some) naturally occurring affordable housing,” Newton said. “That is something I cannot support in any way, shape or form.”
Meanwhile, Pierzchala pointed out the council could not choose none of the options because that harms the community by causing congestion to increase.
Palakovich Carr said she supports the idea of Bus Rapid Transit in the city. She said any of the three options would help the city.
“(Option 2) does more to address long-term needs for corridor” than doing nothing, Palakovich Carr said.
Palakovich Carr added option 3 appeared to impact other properties less than option 2.
City staff said option 5b would cost significantly more than either option 2 or option 3.
Alternative 3 would include bus stops along the side of the road and would add 2,700 extra riders compared to commuter buses.
That proposal would have lanes reserved for the special Bus Rapid Transit lanes on 72 percent of the corridor from Rockville Metro to Wheaton Metro.
At the intersections with Edmonston Drive and First Street, the bus would be able to pass drivers waiting to cross the intersection through “queue jump lanes,” Rockville planner Barry Gore said. The plan would impact some properties beside the dedicated lanes, Gore said.
One downside is buses would have to share a lane with buses and right-turning vehicles the remaining 28 percent of the time because planners said BRT is impossible in several places.
The challenge of planning BRT on Veirs Mill is “the condition keeps changing every few hundred feet,” Gore said.
Parts of the plan may involve eliminating a turn lane at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Edmonston Drive.
Alternative 5b would include more BRT, but would require moving or eliminating 10 residences. It also would cost as much as two times the cost of Option 3.
Alternative 2 would have limited stops, would have no dedicated BRT lanes (requiring traveling in mixed traffic at all times) but would have “queue jump” opportunities. All three options would reduce travel time and increase bus trip boardings.
Though the council members voted their preferences, the city has more planning to do and has other steps remaining before it can complete the project, according to the state highway administration.
Kate Sylvester, assistant division chief of project management for the SHA, said she could not estimate a prediction for when the bus rapid transit lanes would be complete.
Variables such as when the state acquired funding for the project and how long the planning process takes will affect the timeline of the project.
Planning alone, not including acquiring funding, could take multiple years, Sylvester said.
The council also unanimously voted to oppose hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in Maryland Monday.