2021 | Transit

Public weighs in on county’s transit plan for I-270 corridor

Proposal includes more bus service, call for Red Line extension

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Montgomery County residents on Thursday weighed in a plan for more transit options in the I-270 corridor, such as more bus routes. The county also has a more “ambitious” goal of extending Metro’s Red Line from Shady Grove north to Germantown.

The county’s Planning Department finalized a draft of the plan, “Corridor Forward,” in November. It states that growth of the biotech and life sciences sector along I-270, from around Bethesda up to Germantown, necessitates expanding transit options.

Specifically, it recommends adding more bus rapid transit lines along and near I-270, including along Md. 355 and Veirs Mill Road. The plan says those options are more realistic in the near future than extending the Red Line, which would include two stops in Gaithersburg and one in Germantown. 

It also highlights the need for the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), a proposed 20.1-mile bus route from the Shady Grove Metro station to the Frederick County line.

“Rather than position stops along the interstate, the bus diverts in select locations to serve communities. Dedicated bus lanes support quick reliable access to points of demand in Germantown, Montgomery Village, and in the Life Sciences Center,” the Corridor Forward plan states about the CCT.

Some residents said at Thursday’s hearing that Corridor Forward does not focus enough on increasing service along MARC lines up to Frederick and Brunswick — something sorely needed for those who commute into Montgomery County for their jobs.  

Corridor Forward considers an expansion of MARC service, but prioritizes other transportation projects, such as increased bus service upcounty.

Ben Ross, chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, disagreed with this conclusion. He said that increased MARC service could connect people upcounty and north of Montgomery County to jobs, and reduce traffic from those regions on I-270.

“We believe that incremental MARC upgrades … with full, two-way all-day service, should be the highest priority,” Ross said. 

Andrew Saundry, a Germantown resident, agreed that more service is needed on the MARC line up to Frederick and Brunswick. But he also urged the Planning Board and Planning Department staff not to forget about upcounty when considering future transit options.

“We’re home to some of the largest increases in [population] density in Montgomery County over the last decade,” Saundry said. “In spite of our growth, there’s been very little additional road capacity, and almost no additional transit capacity. In fact, in Germantown, we’ve actually had a reduction in transit capacity on the bus routes.”

A few others who testified Thursday said that although Corridor Forward mentions a monorail line from Frederick to Montgomery County as an option, it does not give it enough credence. 

Bob Eisinger, president of the High Road Foundation — an organization that has advocated for monorail projects in Montgomery County and nationwide —has spearheaded the idea of a monorail in Maryland, and also testified in front of state lawmakers about it.

Eisinger said there are many positives to his proposal: Much of the land is already in the public right-of-way, its construction costs are similar to light rail projects while carrying five times the number of passengers, and it costs a third or a fourth as much, per mile, as the Red line extension, while carrying the same number of riders on that system.

“You’re getting a triple whammy for your buck. And you’re not buying any ground,” Eisinger said.

The Planning Board’s first work session with Corridor Forward is expected to be Dec. 16.

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