Panel: MontCo needs rapid bus network in nine years

Local,Maryland,Transportation,Rachel Baye

A rapid bus network in Montgomery County would cost roughly $1.83 billion to build and an additional $1.1 million per mile to operate each year, according to estimates from a county-commissioned panel.

The Transit Task Force, appointed by County Executive Ike Leggett, wants the system running in nine years and recommends a "world class," 161.5-mile bus rapid transit, or BRT, network that runs along 23 major county thoroughfares and is built in three phases. The recommendations will be formally presented to Leggett in a report planned for release this week.

The vehicles should be "sleek and stylish," with Wi-Fi capabilities, a recent draft of the report describes. They should resemble "light rail on rubber tires."

The first phase
Intercounty Connector from I-270 to Route 2922.9 miles
Randolph Road from Rockville Pike to FDA Boulevard12.5 miles
Rockville Pike from Montgomery Village Avenue to Bethesda Metro station12.1 miles
Route 29 from Burtonsville/198 to Silver Spring Metro station 10.7 miles
Georgia Avenue from Olney to Veirs Mill Road9.8 miles
Veirs Mill Road from Rockville Metro station to Wheaton Metro station6.7 miles
Total miles in phase one: 74.7

The task force offers 11 funding options that use a combination of property taxes and county and state contributions to pay for the system.

In all scenarios, the first couple years would add about $40 to $80 to the tax bill for an average $400,000 Montgomery County home, the report explains, but the costs accelerate in years three through eight -- 2015 through 2020, if the system is approved quickly. At most, the owner of a $400,000 home could pay about $385 on top of his or her current property tax bill, while the owner of a 2,000-square-foot business could end up paying an extra $1,175.

Given the difficulty of acquiring federal funding for transportation projects, the task force does not recommend planning for that possibility. However, it does recommend getting private partners to help foot the bill.

"Eighty-five percent of our residents drive and will drive no matter what, so the question is, 'Does this make it better or worse for those people?' " said County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large, who sits on the council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee and chairs the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. "And two, how are we going to pay for it? ... Is this really the time to talk about some major new taxing initiative?"

The hefty price tag would be well worth the benefits the system would bring to the county, said Transit Task Force Chairman Mark Winston.

"Cost is vital, there's no question about that, but frankly, I've lived in this community for 35 years, and I've heard people complaining about congestion problems and related issues for all the time I've lived here," he said. "There's no free solution."

But it's also important to remember that BRT is not going to be the panacea that solves all the county's traffic problems, said task force member Richard Parsons.

"We're never going to solve our congestion problems with transit alone," he said. "If you take every transportation project that's in our current master plan and assume that every single one of them will get funded and built, we still have a congestion problem."

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