County Officials Urge State to Speed Up Planning for Bus Rapid Transit Line

County Officials Urge State to Speed Up Planning for Bus Rapid Transit Line

Proposed BRT system on Rockville Pike remains a long way off

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A BRT station in Eugene, Ore.

via Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan

Officials representing Montgomery County, Gaithersburg and Rockville said Wednesday night that creating a bus rapid transit line on Rockville Pike is a key piece of infrastructure needed to boost the region’s economic development.

But even though the project has strong support from local officials, it still remains a budding idea that faces a lengthy state planning process.

Montgomery County Council members joined the Rockville and Gaithersburg city councils to discuss the bus project that officials hope will one day connect Gaithersburg to Bethesda with buses traveling north and south in dedicated lanes.

Just when that might happen, though, is questionable. Barry Kiedrowski, a project manager for the State Highway Administration, presented a timeline for a planning study that wouldn’t issue a report until fall 2016. He did not say how long it might be until construction would begin.

County officials are urging SHA to work with them to create a firm timeline that would speed up the planning process.

“Part of me was dying when I heard you go through the various steps of this process,” Councilmember Roger Berliner told Kiedrowski. He asked that the SHA partner with the county to make a bus rapid transit system a reality sooner.

“To me that’s a four-year process,” Berliner said. “I feel it has to be driven by the sense of urgency that all three jurisdictions feel about this.”

Kiedrowski responded, “We’ll do the best we can.”

Council President George Leventhal said it will be important to unite the planning efforts of the county, Rockville and Gaithersburg. That can be done under the new county transit authority that County Executive Ike Leggett is proposing, Leventhal said.

Tom Street, an assistant chief administrative officer for Leggett, said the proposed transit authority would be able to manage and finance rapid transit systems and that Leggett plans to recommend its creation to the County Council soon.

“County Executive Leggett made it very clear that transit was one of his top priorities,” Street said. “His commitment could not have been more clear… we need to move forward now.”

Councilmember Marc Elrich, who first pitched the idea of bus rapid transit in the county about six years ago, said the county should work on solving issues such as intersection management, how dedicated lanes can be added to narrow sections of the roadway and right-of-way problems before giving the project to a consultant to design. He mentioned that solving such issues in advance helped the city of Eugene, Ore., keep its BRT costs down and begin construction sooner.

If constructed, the BRT route would extend in dedicated lanes either in the center or outside lanes of Rockville Pike/state Route 355 from as far north as Clarksburg to the Bethesda Metro station.

Proposed BRT route from Rockville to Bethesda. The dotted line represents a possible extension to D.C. through Friendship Heights.

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