White Oak development plans count on rapid bus line

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

The bulk of Montgomery County planners' proposed redevelopment of White Oak in the eastern part of the county cannot be built until after a rapid bus system is established there, planners say.

The 3,000 acres bordered by the Capital Beltway to the south, Route 29 to the west, Cherry Hill Road to the north and Prince George's County to the east are home to 14,195 households with 35,655 people. The area is also home to the Food and Drug Administration's headquarters and a 185-acre property owned by construction company Percontee Inc.

County planners have proposed turning the largely suburban, road-dependent area into a new mixed-use community where people who work at the FDA or Percontee can walk, bike or take transit to work, said Glenn Kreger, the area's planning chief.

"What I hear most from people who live in this area is a desire to have more amenities, a desire to have more restaurants, destination spots," said County Councilwoman Nancy Navarro, D-Eastern County. "People always say, 'How come we have to always get in our cars and go somewhere else?' "

But White Oak has only three main thoroughfares -- Route 29, New Hampshire Avenue and Randolph Road, Kreger said.

"They've already got a serious congestion problem in the Route 29 corridor," he said. "The roads can only handle so much without some other way to provide for that kind of mobility."

So the planners have turned to bus rapid transit, or BRT.

A panel commissioned by County Executive Ike Leggett proposed a 160-mile, countywide network of buses that would travel in dedicated lanes to bypass gridlock.

BRT routes are planned for Route 29 from Route 198 to the Silver Spring Metro, Randolph Road from Rockville Pike to FDA Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue from the Intercounty Connector to the D.C. border.

However, BRT, which has been estimated to cost upward of $1.8 billion to build and $1.1 million to operate each mile, has not been recommended by the county Planning Board or approved for construction by the county executive or County Council.

But that doesn't worry stakeholders in the project, since the first phase, which includes about 4 million square feet of development, can be built before BRT is ready, emphasized Percontee Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jonathan Genn, who sat on the Citizens Advisory Committee that advised the Planning Board on the White Oak proposal, as well as on Leggett's panel.

"So many of the stakeholders, including community members, are asking, 'When can we get this? We'd like to have these amenities and the job opportunities and the reinvestment as soon as possible.' "

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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