Bus Rapid Transit may be in Montgomery County's near future, extending the county's transportation services into the upcounty.
The Montgomery County Council unanimously voted Tuesday to support County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommendation to use Bus Rapid Transit instead of Light Rapid Transit as the preferred mode on the Corridor Cities Transitway. This recommendation is a switch from the county's previous decision to support light rapid transit as the preferred mode of transportation.
"There's a couple of advantages of shifting to this mode," said Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At large). "The flexibility of the system is that buses can leave the route or enter the route at various points along the way. That is something that might be more suitable to the upcounty and its master plan structure... there are different levels of infrastructure investment that work in different kinds of communities.”
In 2009 the council voted 6-3 to support the light rail over Bus Rapid Transit for the CCT, outlined in the Clarksburg, Germantown and Great Seneca Science Corridor Masterplans as the transit line traveling north from the Shady Grove Metro Station to serve the communities of Rockville, Gaithersburg, Germantown and Clarksburg.
At that time, councilmembers Valerie Ervin (D-Dist.5), Nancy Floreen (D-At large), George Leventhal (D-At large), Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) and former councilmembers Michael Knapp (D-Dist. 2) and Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) preferred the LRT system. Phil Andrews (D-Dist. 3), Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1), and Marc Elrich (D-At large) preferred BRT.
"I don't think people understood how good rapid transit could be," Berliner said, pointing to a business community that was skeptical of the BRT's usefulness to the science industry growth. "Now we've got the staging for the life sciences [industry], and the understanding that light rail would be years in the future and more expensive and far less flexible, given the constraints on federal budgets."
After delays in the governor's office to submit a final recommendation to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting a transit mode for the CCT, County Executive Leggett sent a letter to the council in 2011 indicating that he is prepared to change his recommendation for the CCT from light rail to rapid bus.
As a light rail project, Leggett and council believe the CCT would become a lower priority to the state than other rapid transit projects such as the Metro's Purple Line or Baltimore's Red Line. If the CCT were to function with LRT it would be the only rail line of the three running within only one major jurisdiction, and therefore less likely to get funding.
As a rail line, the CCT would be more costly to build and because of fierce competition for federal grants, it would be unlikely that the state would be granted funds for the project, according to background materials from Deputy Council Staff Director Glenn Orlin. As a BRT line, the CCT would cost less and would be eligible for more attainable federal grant money.
The Montgomery County Department of Transit recently commissioned a study at the request of the county executive that examines the impact of building the BRT rather than the LRT.
Building a line to Clarksburg with bus rapid transit is project to cost $492 million dollars over a two-part span of 10 years, beginning in 2018. Projected costs for a light rail project are $772 million over a two-part span of 12 years, beginning in 2028.
The study, conducted by Parsons and Brinckerhoff, also found that BRT would have a 40 percent more positive economic impact over LRT, and would create approximately 200,000 more jobs.
"I think people have gotten more comfortable with rapid transit as a great way to go and realize that if we want to move forward economically we need to do it now rather than later," Berliner said. "Bus rapid transit is the best way to do that."