2022 | Government

Council supports plan outlining transit options for I-270 corridor

Bus rapid transit, expanded bus service seen as priority over Red Line extension

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Montgomery County Council members expressed support on Tuesday for a plan that proposes more transit along the I-270 corridor, with increased bus service having a high priority.

Glenn Orlin, a senior analyst for the County Council, led the presentation of the Corridor Forward plan to the council. The county’s Planning Board finalized its recommended plan this past winter.

The plan has many recommendations for improving transit along I-270, but the near–term priorities focus on improving and increasing bus service. Some top priorities include building bus rapid transit lines along Md. 355 from Clarksburg to Bethesda and along Veirs Mill Road from Rockville to Wheaton.

Corridor Forward also takes a new look at the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) — a proposed 20.1-mile bus route from the Shady Grove Metro station to the Frederick County line — by creating a network of dedicated bus lanes throughout that line in Germantown, Montgomery Village and the Life Sciences Center. 

Council Member Tom Hucker, chair of the Transportation and Environment Committee — which held work sessions on the plan — said he appreciated the Planning Department and Department of Transportation officials emphasizing increased MARC rail service in the plan. Multiple residents called for that change during a Planning Board public hearing in December.

“I feel like MARC rail has been overdue for some more attention. … Anybody who rides MARC or aspires to ride MARC in the future should be excited in the future,” Hucker said. 

In a presentation, the planning staff listed increased MARC service as more of a long-term goal.

The plan states that the public needs to be cautious about enhanced MARC service due to CSX owning the lines along the Brunswick Line. Negotiations with CSX would need to consider any decrease in freight service along certain parts of the line, the plan states.

Corridor Forward mentions Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to widen I-270 and part of the Capital Beltway, and replace the American Legion Bridge across the Potomac River. Part of the project includes installing high-occupancy toll lanes, which would charge tolls to drivers looking to save time during their commute.

Council Member Sidney Katz said he was concerned that the toll lanes might not collect enough revenue to help pay for future transit projects. He added that toll lanes are not equitable treatment because only those who can afford it will pay the rates.

One of the longer-term goals of Corridor Forward is to extend the Metro’s Red Line up to Germantown. Planning officials concede in the plan that this is a lofty goal, but Council Member Hans Riemer said during Tuesday’s meeting that elected officials and others shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Riemer said he drove through Olde Towne Gaithersburg recently and saw the logistical challenges of extending the line through that area.

Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman and other city officials expressed some concerns about that plan in a letter to the County Council — including how the plan would affect low-income and high-minority populations in Olde Towne. 

Still, Riemer said, it’s important to consider enhanced MARC service and the Red Line extension, especially as people travel upcounty.

“The upcounty lacks transit,” Riemer said. “Once you get north of Shady Grove, there isn’t enough.”

Council Member Andrew Friedson shared Riemer’s view that county planners and officials need to be ambitious about future transit. Friedson said Corridor Forward does a good job of establishing both practical goals and aspirations — what he compared to a magic wand.

“This document now … really does have the current moment and the magic wand option for the future,” Friedson said.

Orlin said the County Council will vote on a resolution supporting the Corridor Forward plan in the next few weeks. 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com