$1.8 billion on low end of price for MontCo bus network

Local,Maryland,Transportation,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County's proposed bus network is likely to cost much more than the current $1.8 billion estimate, according to county Planning Department staff.

"I have reasons to believe that the cost estimate that was done by the [County Executive's Transit Task Force] is less than what it should be," Master Planner Larry Cole told The Washington Examiner.

Past projects indicate that the cost of building the proposed bus rapid transit, or BRT, network could be several times the $1.8 billion estimate, according to Cole, who helped write a staff report on the project last week.

Construction costs of bus rapid transit
  2011 If built in nine years* If built in 20 years*
Guideway and track elements $220,538,000 $265,363,000 $300,391,000
Stations, stops and terminals $115,059,000 $138,505,000 $155,382,000
Support facilities (yards, shops and administration buildings) $34,529,000 $41,245,000 $45,818,000
Sitework $305,596,000 $367,630,000 $413,834,000
Systems $131,636,000 $159,240,000 $181,280,000
Row, land and existing improvements $75,000,000 $90,601,000 $103,381,000
Professional services $242,649,000 $292,210,000 $320,075,000
Unallocated contingency funds $185,215,000 $223,893,000 $246,808,000
Buses $330,000,000 $405,461,000 $456,834,000
Phase 1 Total $823,651,000 $973,696,000 $994,202,000
Phase 2 Total $587,440,000 $715,107,000 $846,846,000
Phase 3 Total $229,132,000 $295,346,000 $382,754,000
Pre-development expenses $40,000,000 $47,901,000 $57,014,000
Branding $3,000,000 $3,230,000 $3,329,000
Technology costs $22,000,000 $25,917,000 $27,559,000
Maintenance facilities $97,000,000 $112,482,000 $115,924,000
Parking facilities $22,500,000 $26,368,000 $30,485,000
Route operations analysis $1,000,000 $1,077,000 $1,077,000
Total $1,825,722,000 $2,201,124,000 $2,459,190,000
*Includes the costs of repaying debt incurred
Source: Montgomery County Executive's Transit Task Force Report

Cole pointed to the Intercounty Connector, which cost roughly $2.5 billion to build and has one-third of the miles of the proposed 160-mile BRT system, and to Goshen Road, which is 3.5 miles and is estimated to cost $128 million, or about $36 million per mile.

Though both are significantly different from the bus network -- Goshen Road is much simpler, Cole said, and the ICC had to be built from scratch, while BRT would be built on existing roads -- they raise questions about BRT's relatively low cost. If each mile of the bus system costs close to those projects, the price range could be as much as $5.5 to $7.5 billion, Cole said.

The network is expected to cost $11.3 million per mile.

The Transit Task Force has recommended building dedicated "guideways" to prevent the buses from getting bogged down in gridlock. On some of the more-developed corridors -- like Rockville Pike -- that means choosing between taking existing lanes away from other vehicles or spending large amounts of money to widen the road, claim private property and relocate utilities.

The cost disparities may be the result of the task force not accounting for as many costs as they are likely to encounter, Cole said.

The group allocated about $75 million for claiming private property, and about 25 percent of other construction costs will go toward utilities, said Transit Task Force Chairman Mark Winston. But most of these factors are too uncertain to price, he said.

The county Transportation Department thinks $1.8 billion is low, Winston said. Consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff estimated the construction cost would be about $2.5 billion.

However, Transportation Director Arthur Holmes wouldn't offer his own estimate, saying only that the current projections are "very general at best."

The price could rise or fall depending on the pace of construction or where the supplies come from, Winston agreed.

"I'm not going to tell somebody that I am certain that that's the right number," he said. "There are lots of imponderables."

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