Council closer to funding bus rapid transit in eastern county

If everything goes as planned, the East County will be one step closer to having a new alternative for commuters.

Last week, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Administration released a study on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit for U.S. Route 29.

Representatives from MCDOT and MTA spoke to the County Council Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee last week. The T & E committee did not vote on the proposal during its meeting last week.

The proposed BRT for Route 29 is part of a series of BRT lines the County is proposing – along with one on MD-355 and MD-586 – that it hopes will cut down on heavy traffic congestion in the County. The BRT would operate partially along the shoulder lanes as a quicker alternative to buses.

The proposal for the BRT for Route 29 notably does not include dedicated lanes that the BRT system would use exclusively, saying it would cost too much to build the dedicated lanes.

“I’m trying to understand how this is any different from just enhanced bus service,” said Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At large). “I know we’re going to have fancy stations.”

The report listed 11 tentative stations along the route, including stops along Tech Road, the White Oak Transit Center, University Boulevard and the Silver Spring Transit Center.

Floreen asked about expanding Metro Extra, a newly-branded Metro bus service with limited stops for quicker commute times, instead of BRT.

Chris Conklin, deputy director of transportation policy for MCDOT, said the state, not the County, pays for Metro service and the State does not have more money to provide to Metro to expand service.

“They’re not willing to provide additional money for new service to be operated by Metro,” Conklin said.

The study released last week by the County and the state details the project’s projected costs, ridership and economic impact.

Conklin said BRT would be a cheaper alternative in terms of operating cost as compared with Metro Extra, with Metro Extra costing $9.6 million a year to operate as compared with $7.5 million a year for the proposed BRT.

“That may seem strange. If we’re running the same service, why would it be more expensive,” Conklin said. “WMATA operating cost is generally 20 percent higher for similar service.”

According to the study, the proposed BRT for U.S. Route 29 would cost $31.5 million, $21.5 of which would come from the County and $10 million from a grant for the U.S. Department of Transportation.



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