Bus network would benefit everyone economically, MontCo officials say

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

A rapid bus network in Montgomery County would benefit all residents financially, county Transit Task Force Chairman Mark Winston told the county Planning Board on Thursday, leading some officials to suggest everyone in the county should be paying for it.

Citing the Washington region's notorious traffic congestion, Winston noted that the average commuter sits in 74 hours of traffic-related delays and wastes nearly $1,500 on unnecessary gasoline each year. Bus rapid transit, or BRT, could prevent that sort of waste, he said.

"The task force is not proposing the creation of another bus system. It is not even proposing the creation of an express bus system. It is not Metro. It is not light rail. It is not a bus system. It is a new animal," he said.

The proposed network of more than 160 miles of high-speed bus routes, in which buses resembling a hybrid of commuter bus and light rail travel in dedicated lanes and bypass people waiting on congested thoroughfares, is expected to cost more than $1.8 billion to build and an additional $1.1 million each mile to operate. But it would bring increased development to the county, helping raise property values, Winston noted. "The benefits far outweigh the costs."

The panel that Winston led has proposed funding the system through special taxing districts ranging from encompassing properties within a half-mile of the bus routes to including 90 percent of the properties in the county. Under that proposal, residents could end up paying as much as 15 percent more in property taxes, with the owner of a house valued at $400,000 paying as much as $580 more a year.

Because it's hard to determine who will really benefit -- whose property values will increase as a result of the network, for example -- maybe the burden should be spread across the county, suggested Planning Board member Amy Presley.

"It really is more of a general tax," she said. "It's something we should be doing at large," especially if money is taken away from other construction projects to fund the network.

The Planning Board also raised the question of what the bus network would mean for the county's other transportation projects, like the Purple Line and major road projects.

"Bottom line the question is, how do we pay for all of this stuff?" asked County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large, who was at the meeting. "How do you fund the infrastructure that everybody needs? If 10 percent of the people take the bus, we still have 90 percent of the people who we need to support on other kinds of infrastructure."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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