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Study finds cheaper way to build rapid bus system along I-270

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Local,Maryland,Transportation,Rachel Baye

A study of the planned rapid bus route along Montgomery County's Interstate 270 corridor found that the first phase of the system could be built for just $235 million, $310 million less than the Maryland Transit Administration's cost estimates. But county lawmakers are worried that less is not more.

The study by Baltimore engineering firm Kittelson & Associates, was commissioned by a group of property owners adjacent to the planned Corridor Cities Transitway -- or CCT -- route. It found that by having buses run in mixed traffic on parts of the route, building temporary stations and forgoing items like park-and-ride facilities, the first phase could be built less expensively and be completed sooner.

But in a county where only about 14 percent of commuters take transit and even fewer take buses, cutting corners on the CCT might make convincing residents to get on a bus more difficult, lawmakers warn.

"I don't think we want to do the CCT on the cheap ... because we want it to have maximum capacity for the long term and maximum speed," said County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large. "We want to make this as close to a light rail experience as we can. ... The only way I think people will ride this is if it's a better bang for the buck."

Building a top-notch system could help county officials test whether county residents are willing to take bus rapid transit before considering the larger network a county panel has proposed, said Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large.

The most recent plans have buses operating in dedicated lanes to avoid gridlock. Under the study's plan, buses would operate in mixed traffic between the Shady Grove Metro station and Rockville Pike, on Route 119 through the Life Sciences Center, and between a station near MedImmune and the Metropolitan Grove MARC Station.

One of the key aspects of the system is that it gets commuters out of traffic, said Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville. The Kittelson proposal "subjects riders to the same traffic that we want to get them out of."

But the route is planned strategically so that travel time increases minimally, said Bill Robertson, president and CEO of Adventist Healthcare, acting spokesman for the property owners who commissioned the study.

The one-way trip from Shady Grove to Metropolitan Grove would increase 3.7 minutes, from 31.2 to 34.9 minutes, the study shows. The reverse trip increases from 30.8 to 35.5 minutes, making the round trip travel time 70.4 minutes, up from 62.1.

There's also something to be said for building the system sooner, rather than later, Robertson said.

"Taking the first step is important, and taking it sooner than later is important because our [traffic] problem only gets larger the longer we take to address it."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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