MontCo bus network means choice between cost, congestion

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Local,Maryland,Transportation,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County officials face a tough choice if they want to build a rapid bus system: spend as much as $2.5 billion on new lanes or run the buses on already clogged county roads.

The system can be built for $578 million, excluding the costs of buses or stations, if the county does not buy any additional land to expand the roads, a new study found. The finding offers an alternative to the $2.5 billion price tag consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff gave last year when it studied a larger-scale system.

Buying right of way is expensive, as reflected by those routes where avoiding it is nearly impossible.

The most expensive route
Recommendations on how the bus rapid transit network would run on Rockville Pike between the Bethesda Metro station and the Rockville station:
1. Dedicated lanes from East-West Highway to Jones Bridge Road; eliminate one car lane in both directions; eliminate parking during peak periods.
2. Mixed traffic from Jones Bridge Road to Strathmore Road.
3. From Strathmore Road to Montrose Parkway/Randolph Road, use one dedicated BRT lane, separated from traffic, in each direction with stations in the median and left turn lanes. Right of way would be donated by property owners as part of redevelopment.
4. From Montrose Parkway to Richard Montgomery Road, continue the same design but with service roads.
5. From Richard Montgomery Road to Quince Orchard Road, build new dedicated lanes.
Total miles: 7.93
Total cost: $133,136,675
Cost per mile: $16,788,988
Source: The Traffic Group

For example, the route on Rockville Pike between the Bethesda and Rockville Metro stations is the study's most expensive at $133 million. There, the county would have to widen the road or buses would have to travel down existing lanes on a stretch that already is congested, said Wes Guckert, president of the Traffic Group Inc., which produced the new study.

And in downtown Bethesda, taking right of way means knocking down buildings, said County Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large, who suggested the bus network.

But not buying right of way to add bus-only lanes means buses would mingle with the rest of traffic on about a quarter of the routes, the report found.

Elrich said he expects the final product to be a hybrid of the initially proposed full-blown system and the more recent pared-down design, with a possible average cost of $10 million to $12 million per mile.

"The fact that 25 percent of it would be in mixed traffic would severely compromise the system," said Tina Slater, route committee head for County Executive Ike Leggett's Transit Task Force.

In some areas, such as Rockville Pike between East-West Highway and Jones Bridge Road, the buses could avoid mingling with traffic if an existing lane were closed to cars and used only for the bus route, the report shows.

A full lane is assumed to hold about 1,200 cars, or 1,440 people, every hour, said county Master Planner Larry Cole, who is studying the system for the county Planning Board. Assuming all other lanes in that direction were also full, making up for the loss of a full lane would require 21 buses carrying 70 people each every hour, or one full bus every three minutes.

"Presumably with the increase in congestion in the other lanes, that bus lane looks more and more attractive," he said.

The report was commissioned by the Transit Task Force, a group of county residents, transit experts and activists designing a countywide bus rapid transit system that has been compared to light rail in quality.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner