With the ceremonial flick of a few shovels Thursday morning, state and local elected officials marked the beginning of construction on the Montgomery County’s first bus rapid transit line —a $31 million project called Flash. The 14-mile, 11-station line will follow the route of U.S. 29 north from the Silver Spring Transit Center to the Burtonsville Park and Ride lot in the northern part of the county.
“I think all of us know why transit is so important. It’s going to help us get from one place to another. When you get cars off the road, it eases congestion somewhat. So this is an example of an important success story,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who spoke at Thursday’s ground-breaking ceremony.
Van Hollen was joined by U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, whose district encompasses northern portions of Montgomery County in addition to Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City.
“Montgomery County is putting a stake in the ground in terms of showing how to do it [bus rapid transit],” he said.
Van Hollen and Sarbanes both touted the federal government’s $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant awarded to the county in 2016 for the project. The county is providing the other $21 million . According to a press release, each bus can carry 90 passengers and will use the right hand shoulder of the road as a dedicated travel lane, in places where a shoulder exists. There will be fewer stops than regular Ride On buses, and county officials estimate that commute times could drop by as much as 30 percent. Joana Conklin, the bus rapid transit development manager for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, said in an interview that the buses would use the shoulder on U.S. 29 north of the Tech Road intersection in White Oak.
Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Al Roshdieh said in an interview that construction crews have already begun working on transforming the shoulder of U.S. 29, and that stations would soon be built. Buses are expected to begin using the route by 2020, he said.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, who is set to leave office at year’s end due to term limits, said during the ceremony the bus line was on his “east county bucket list” in addition to the VIVA White Oak mixed-use development that officials broke ground on earlier in the week, which is adjacent to the Food and Drug Administration’s headquarters and Washington Adventist Hospital.
“Whenever I go to the grocery store, people ask me about transportation and transit. People talk to me about the inconveniences and the challenges that we face. We have a vision and a plan now that I know will improve transportation options along this route,” he said.
Leggett joked that since becoming county executive in 2006, he had been “beaten up, kicked around and screamed at” by County Council member Marc Elrich about building a bus rapid transit system. Elrich, a Democrat who is one of three candidates running for Leggett’s position in the Nov. 6 election, didn’t waste the opportunity to mention that he had proposed a 110-mile BRT plan a decade ago.
“I had Route 29 on the map and people said, ‘Why? There are no jobs here.’ And I said there are no jobs here because there’s no infrastructure here,” he said.
One of Elrich’s opponents in the county executive race, independent candidate Nancy Floreen, followed Elrich by saying the bus line would help create jobs in the eastern p
art of the county.
“This is all about balance, but this balance is so necessary to the east county. This is about our future and how we create economic vitality,” she said.
In addition to Montgomery County officials, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman attended the ceremony. Kittleman said in an interview that 13,000 Howard County residents travel across the Patuxent River on U.S. 29 every day for work, and that the availability of the bus line in Burtonsville will help relieve congestion on the highway.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org