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BRT plans move forward

Rockville SealROCKVILLE — The next step in the County transit initiative – Bus Rapid Transit – is to move forward with a plan for a BRT on MD-355.

But before the County can proceed into the planning and design process, it first has to consult the two municipalities that sit along the route – Rockville and Gaithersburg. 

On Monday night, County transportation staff briefed Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the City Council on County plans for a BRT on MD-355.

While County transportation officials and politicians have claimed the proposed BRT will have quicker travel times than a conventional bus, that claim was met with skepticism by some members of the Council during Monday night’s meeting.

“It just seems that ‘rapid’ is rapidly being drained out of BRT,” said Council member Mark Pierzchala.

While BRT systems typically operate in a dedicated lane so the buses can avoid traffic and transport passengers at a much-quicker rate, of the three proposals County transportation staff showed the mayor and Council, one alternative included bus driving completely in mixed traffic.

While the proposed BRT for U.S. Route 29 in the East County will operate in both mixed traffic and a dedicated lane, the one planned for Veirs Mill Road will operate solely in mixed traffic.

Corey Pitts, BRT project manager for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, said the County chose the mixed-traffic plan for Veirs Mill Road because studies have shown a little time differential between mixed traffic and a dedicated lane on that road. Pitts added that the mixed-traffic option for MD-355 is just an alternative, and the issue needs to be studied before there is a specific BRT plan for the route.

The plan for MD-355 is to provide a 22-mile BRT route that will connect from Clarksburg to Bethesda and will be made quicker with potentially dedicated lanes for part of the route, prepaid boarding, transit-signal priority and WiFi.

Currently, the MCDOT is studying the different alternatives for BRT and consulting elected officials in Rockville and Gaithersburg before they offer a recommendation for a specific plan in the fall.

Newton said she was skeptical of BRT in the City, saying while she could see the need for other parts of the County, there is too much traffic on MD-355 in the City limits for it to be rapid, she said.

“I just don’t see that the same...service ability in the Rockville corridor,” Newton said. “It’s just too congested in too many places.”

Newton also brought up the concern that BRT on MD-355 would take away riders away from the Metro. In Montgomery County, the Metro’s Red Line runs parallel to MD-355, a concern for Newton, who said she worries that it could take riders and their toll money away from the cash-strapped system.

Pitts and Chris Conklin, deputy director of transportation for MCDOT, said while they are still studying how a MD-355 BRT would affect Metro’s ridership numbers, the BRT will connect more people to Metro stops on the Red Line, with Clarksburg residents having the ability to take the BRT to Shady Grove or Rockville.

@neal_earley

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