County transportation officials are marking $10 million in federal funding promised this week as a victory for bus rapid transit in Silver Spring.
The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Montgomery County the money through one of its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants for the 14-mile bus rapid transit network planned for Route 29.
The federal government doled out about $500 million in TIGER grants for projects across the country in the last fiscal year.
The county actually applied for $33.6 million in TIGER grant funding for the Route 29 bus rapid transit (BRT) project, which would’ve covered half of the estimated $67.2 million cost. Al Roshdieh, director of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), told Bethesda Beat Thursday the county is grateful for any amount of funding.
“Ten million is better than zero,” Roshdieh said.
Last year, County Executive Ike Leggett announced he had selected Route 29 for the county’s first BRT system and that it would be up and running by 2020.
BRT would consist of bus routes that, in some stretches on some of the county’s busiest thoroughfares would run in dedicated bus-only lanes to provide faster service than existing bus routes that operate among other vehicles.
County officials picked Route 29 for the first BRT route in large part because they say the service could be accommodated within existing street pavement, so the county wouldn’t have to pay more to build new lanes or other infrastructure.
The Route 29 BRT route would use existing shoulder lanes. In some stretches, the buses would travel in mixed traffic among other vehicles.
“This funding is a big boost for our Bus Rapid Transit plans along Route 29,” Leggett said in a press release Thursday. “This project demonstrates our commitment to improving job creation and mobility options on the eastern edge of the county and enhancing economic opportunities for residents living within a half-mile of this highly congested suburban corridor.”
Leggett included $6.5 million in the most recent county capital budget for the planning and design of the Route 29 BRT corridor. Roshdieh said planning is ongoing and the more detailed design stage should start by the end of the year. He said bus acquisition typically takes about 18 months and MCDOT is still striving to have the Route 29 BRT system operational by 2020.
The decision to prioritize the Route 29 BRT system came after Leggett unsuccessfully attempted to create an independent county transit authority he hoped would be able to raise funds for BRT corridors around the county, including on Rockville Pike and Veirs Mill Road.
County Council member Roger Berliner said in a press release Thursday he hopes the $10 million in TIGER grant funding serves “as a catalyst for the countywide network.”
MCDOT estimates the Route 29 system will serve 23,000 riders per day in a corridor where 12 percent of residents have no access to a vehicle and 30 percent of households earn less than half of the area median income.
In its application, the county said BRT would help those residents and be “a vital component” of its plans for the 3,000-acre mixed-use redevelopment project its planning in White Oak.
“The [Route] 29 corridor currently lacks a transit connection from Burtonsville to Silver Spring that can support its planned growth,” read the county’s application.
Pete Tomao, from the pro-BRT Coalition for Smarter Growth, called the TIGER grant a major step.
“Winning a competitive grant like this shows Montgomery is serious about making BRT a reality,” Tomao said in a press release.