Six Takeaways from the Joint Montgomery and D.C. Council Transportation Meeting

Six Takeaways from the Joint Montgomery and D.C. Council Transportation Meeting

Issues include streetcar connections, better communication and Bus Rapid Transit projects

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Andrew Metcalf

Montgomery County councilmembers and members of the D.C. City Council held a joint meeting Wednesday in the District to discuss ways to improve transportation connections between the county and the city.

Officials from the county and city transportation departments also attended the wide-ranging discussion about what can be done to address traffic issues and coordinate long-term transportation plans.

The meeting was co-chaired by Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh. D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells and Montgomery County councilmembers Nancy Floreen, Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer also attended.

The takeaways:

1. These meetings should occur more often –Berliner, the chair of the Montgomery County Council transportation committee, organized the joint meeting and said afterward he couldn’t remember ever meeting with D.C. officials about shared transportation needs. Considering how many local residents and workers use local transportation systems and are interested in improving them, perhaps more joint meetings would be a good idea, Berliner said. Montgomery Councilmember Nancy Floreen asked that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) take the lead on these multi-jurisdictional transportation measures. “We need to look at this as a real system, so we don’t have overlapping priorities,” Floreen said.

Berliner said of Wednesday’s meeting, “We tapped into a mutual desire for both jurisdictions to totally align. Now we need to truly align.”

2. There are four main routes officials are looking to improve – Discussion at the meeting centered on four primary roads that connect the District into Montgomery County and how to improve public transportation that uses them. The roads are New Hampshire Avenue, Georgia Avenue, Colesville Road/U.S. 29 and Wisconsin Avenue/Md. 355.

Of those, the two most likely to see improvements were identified as Wisconsin Avenue and Colesville Road. D.C. Councilmember Cheh said of Wisconsin Avenue: “I think that’s a prime area where we should have a better system.” Bus Rapid Transit routes extending through Northwest D.C. could be part of that better system, according to transportation officials. Another idea was to connect a north-south streetcar or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that D.C. officials are considering to the Silver Spring Transit Center.

3. Where should D.C.’s north-south transit corridor connect? – Jamie Henson, the District transportation official working on the north-south transit corridor, said four different alignments for a north-south streetcar are being examined. “The vast majority of people that speak to us say we should take it to Silver Spring,” Henson said, adding that multiple issues are holding the District back from making that a reality, including funding, where to place a turnaround for the streetcars and cross-jurisdictional coordination. The north-south corridor is currently being studied by the District’s transportation department, and Henson said a report is expected in October.

Although north-south streetcars may be a long way off, officials said a BRT could be explored initially instead.

4. Extending a Wisconsin Avenue/Md. 355 Bus Rapid Transit route into D.C. could have joint benefits – Montgomery County’s recently approved transportation master plan identified Md. Route 355 (Rockville Pike) as one of two of the county’s most critical transportation corridors (as well as U.S. 29/Columbia Pike). Part of easing congestion on Rockville Pike is a center lane BRT system that’s a key element of the White Flint development plan. The BRT is planned for a dedicated lane from the Rockville Metro station to the Bethesda Metro station. But on Wednesday, officials discussed the possibility of extending it through Friendship Heights and joining it with the District’s 37 bus line, which travels Wisconsin Avenue and Massachusetts Avenue into Dupont Circle. David Anspacher, a Montgomery County transportation planner, said the District could consider its own BRT system on Wisconsin to connect to the county’s. “We need a partner in the District and in WMATA to realize the full potential here,” Anspacher said.

Sam Zimbabwe, who is guiding the District’s multi-modal transportation network, said his office is examining the potential for the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. “There is some alignment in what we’ve started to talk about and what you’ve started to talk about,” Zimbabwe said.

Anspacher later said that Montgomery is moving forward with its plans for Rockville Pike and that “a decision needs to be made whether we want it to move down to Friendship Heights and into the District.”

5. Connecticut Avenue is a missing link – The current public transportation system traveling on Connecticut Avenue is WMATA’s L8 bus line. It connects Aspen Hill with the Friendship Heights Metro station. At Wednesday’s meeting, WMATA’s Jim Hamre said the bus line’s riders often call it the Late 8 because it gets stuck in traffic in Kensington. But he said the route is an “obvious connector” of Montgomery County and the District, but that it’s underutilized.

“I happen to think it was a missed opportunity in our bus system,” said Montgomery County Councilmember Elrich. “It’s a critical one we ought to figure out.

6. Expect to hear more about cross-jurisdictional transit improvements – As the meeting concluded, Berliner said, “The purpose of this conversation is to add a little muscle and a little impetus to raise the conversation to another level.” Berliner and Cheh both directed their staff to come up with action items to deal with the issues brought up during the meeting.

The councilmembers agreed that the next steps include having transportation officials from the county and city sit down, figure out the costs and communicate more effectively on possible solutions for improving public transportation connections.

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