Montgomery County legislators at the local, state and federal level assembled on Monday to issue an impassioned plea: Bring back the Corridor Cities Transitway as a state transportation priority.
It’s the latest in an ongoing effort to save the high-speed bus line, which appeared to suffer a serious setback in September when the Maryland Department of Transportation dropped it from a draft list of long-term priorities.
The news in September was met with a variety of reactions from lawmakers committed to the project as a means of economic development in northern Montgomery County. State Del. Kirill Reznik, whose district includes Germantown, Clarksburg, and Gaithersburg, led the Montgomery County delegation in drafting a letter to Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, calling on him to renew state support for the project.
Last week, Council Member Hans Riemer and County Executive Marc Elrich outlined their own plans to save the transitway.
But the state has repeatedly reiterated its intentions to withdraw from the project. Erin Henson, MDOT’s director of public affairs, said the department outlined plans to transfer the bus line to Montgomery County in 2018 after investing an initial $38 million for project design and an environmental study.
Monday’s press conference was one of the first united displays of support for the bus line, which is listed as a central element in seven regional plans. Both Reznik and Elrich attended the event, as did Council Members Sidney Katz, Evan Glass, and Craig Rice.
Municipal leaders, including Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, also attended alongside representatives from U.S. political offices. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin sent spokespeople, as did U.S. Reps. Jamie Raskin and David Trone.
“The Corridor Cities Transitway would provide a crucial link between Montgomery County’s communities — improving public transportation and increasing our economic potential,” Van Hollen is quoted in a later statement from his office. “… The Governor’s decision to eliminate this project was short-sighted and deeply misguided.”
County legislators have long framed the CCT as instrumental to economic development. The bus rapid transit system — a priority bus line with separate lanes and right-of-way at traffic signals — is heavily incorporated into the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan. The document outlines plans for commercial and residential development in an area already occupied by The Universities at Shady Grove, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, and several biotech firms.
Further development in the corridor is contingent on funding the first phase of the CCT. Recruiting more companies to the area is also difficult without a reliable form of mass transit to alleviate traffic on I-270 and nearby roadways, Elrich added at the press conference.
“We have a number of people who are stranded in the northern part of Montgomery County,” he said. “We’re hoping the governor just doesn’t realize what a huge effect this will have on the Sciences Center and our future development.”
Even as legislators push for the project, serious doubts remain over its future.
This is the first year that the CCT has been removed from the state’s annual Consolidated Transportation Plan (CTP), a detailed agenda for statewide transit projects. But for the past two years, the state hasn’t allocated any funding for the bus line, even while including it in final versions of the CTP.
Current estimates for the project range from $480 million to $800 million, an impossible cost for the county to absorb on its own, transportation officials have said. Elrich has separately proposed ways to fund the bus line — including a special tax district and long-term bonds — but admitted on Monday that it would be a hard request for the county.
“It would not be an easy thing to do,” he said at the press conference. “It competes with every existing capital project at a time when we’re trying to reduce capital spending to bring down some of our debt.”
The proposed route for the CCT is another issue. State transportation officials have criticized the design, Elrich said, which prompted his office to propose a new route in hopes of saving the project.
The current proposal is a meandering path from the Shady Grove Metro station to the COMSAT campus in Clarksburg. The route cuts through King Farm Boulevard in the center of the King Farm development in Rockville, an unpopular proposal among residents, Donnell Newton said.
Elrich said his administration has developed a different route along Shady Grove Road, which would shorten the transit time and address resident concerns. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation also met with representatives from the state DOT to discuss the issue, but never developed an official alternative because state representatives outlined their plans to drop the project, said Chris Conklin, the county’s deputy transportation director.
It’s unclear whether the state would support a revised proposal for the CCT. Henson did not respond to the question last week or to three follow-up calls and an email sent on Monday.