Some county officials hope the large bus situated front and center at this year’s Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is a glimpse of the not-so-distant future.
Transit boosters, members of Council and County Executive Isiah Leggett on Monday came to see a rapid transit vehicle borrowed on its way to Denver. For the next week, the bus will be on display in front of the main entrance at the Fair in Gaithersburg.
Councilmembers Marc Elrich and Roger Berliner set out an ambitious timeframe for the buses — or rapid transit vehicles — to be zipping up and down roads such as Rockville Pike, Route 29 and through upcounty areas such as Clarksburg and Germantown.
“There is nothing more fundamental to the future of Montgomery County than making this happen and making it happen during County Executive Ike Leggett’s being county executive,” Berliner said. “The next four years, we are going to make this happen. We are going to move from planning to putting this on the ground.”
Much planning and many feasibility studies remain, but the main obstacle for now seems to be funding.
A county official said the completed, countywide system could run anywhere from $800 million to $1.5 billion to build, though the precise figures are very much unknown and the county would most likely implement the system corridor-by-corridor.
Despite that uncertainty, Leggett said a Montgomery County bus rapid transit network is closer to happening than some realize.
“We want people to see this, because I think it reflects what the future’s about,” Leggett said.
The bus on display will be part of RTD Denver, a Denver-to-Boulder, Colo. express bus line.
“It’s not just our hope that we will join the other communities across the country,” Leggett said, “We will in fact join them. This is important for Montgomery County if we are to get people to take a transit system. We cannot, let me emphasize this, we cannot provide the prosperity, the movement to ensure our future so long as we are in single vehicles in Montgomery County. We have to go to this system.”
The County Council approved a countywide master plan last year that would allow for a 10-corridor, roughly 80-mile bus rapid transit network. One route, or transitway, would cover Rockville Pike and Wisconsin Avenue to the Bethesda Metro station, with the option to extend the transitway to the D.C. line if and when D.C. begins planning a corresponding system.
Another route would run from the White Flint Metro station along Old Georgetown Road before heading west to Westfield Montgomery mall.
Some buses would run in dedicated lanes, some would run to passenger platforms in medians and some to stops on existing sidewalks.
The exact make-up, bus design, number of stops and other details are under study for the Veirs Mill and Georgia Avenue routes, according to Montgomery County Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street. Studies for the Route 29 and Route 355 corridors are just beginning and the county is negotiating with the state and federal government to see what kind of funding help it can secure.
Street says he expects to hear by the end of September if the county is selected for a federal TIGER Grant to help study bus rapid transit on the Route 355 corridor.
“We’re hopeful to establish some partnerships with the state and with the feds on moving this system forward,” Street said.
The event on Monday and the information booth set up outside the Fair entrance were organized by the Communities for Transit, a nonprofit that has partnered with the Coalition for Smarter Growth to push for implementation of the system.
On display with the bus is a Metro-like map of the corridors and potential BRT stations. The implementation of the network will likely find pushback when it comes to where to install bus-only lanes — especially if there’s not enough right-of-way to replace the lost mixed traffic lane.
The county must also work with the State Highway Administration, which controls many of the routes (including Route 355).
But Elrich made the case from a broader perspective, saying the BRT network is imperative if the county wishes to support much of the growth it’s already prescribed.
“The amount of growth and the amount of development the county has planned and the things that we want to happen cannot be accommodated with our existing road network,” Elrich said. “It is just physically impossible.”