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MontCo Council concerned over request for more rapid bus money

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is asking for more money to study a proposed bus rapid transit system, but some County Council members want results before they fork over the funds.

The council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee voted to move to the full council a proposal for another $1 million to examine proposed routes for the bus system, which would run down dedicated lanes on some of the county's most gridlocked roads: The Corridor Cities Transitway along Interstate 270, Route 355/Rockville Pike and U.S. 29/Colesville Road.

But some council members expressed their frustrations with the project. Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large, asked where the $1.5 million the county has already pumped into studies on the project has gone.

How to pay for it?
At a panel in which financing ideas for public transit were discussed, one speaker, Art Guzzetti, discussed funding options other cities around the country opted for when building their own transportation projects.
Some of his suggestions included adding a vehicle registration fee for Montgomery County drivers, adding taxi surcharges or introducing a poured drink tax, which would make alcoholic drinks at bars and restaurants more expensive.

"There have been a variety of reports that you all have commissioned ... for BRT, we've never seen them," Floreen said. "Or we've gotten them through indirect means, but we've never seen them."

The BRT system originally proposed was estimated to run throughout the county and cost about $1.8 billion, but Master Planner Larry Cole said in November the price tag is looking more like $8 billion to $10 billion. County planning staff said in November they were looking to scale back the size of the project to reduce the cost.

Floreen said she was not confident in giving more money to a study when she and others on the council have seen little evidence of how effective past spending has been.

Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large -- who is not on the committee but attended the meeting -- voiced similar frustrations.

"The public is not much impressed with studies, the public wants congestion relief," he said. "Wouldn't it be nice if we could produce just one thing on the ground that could produce something?"

Art Holmes, director of the county Department of Transportation, said the money was necessary so once funding for the BRT comes through, the system can be implemented right away. Councilman Hans Riemer, D-at large, agreed, saying the money would allow the council to move more quickly on the project.

Still, Floreen raised the issue of feasibility -- even if the council puts more money toward studying the project, the county still doesn't know how much it is actually going to cost.

The proposal is scheduled to go in front of the County Council next week.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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