Monday, June 29, 2009

Planning Staff Recommends BRT for CCT

In striking contrast to recommendation for light rail (LRT) for the Purple Line, the Planning Board Staff has recommended bus-rapid transit (BRT) for the Corridor City Transitway (CCT).

If the decision to opt for BRT sticks, politicians may find that strong statements made regarding the great superiority of light rail over bus-rapid transit come back to bite them (darn Google and those digital records!) as they must explain to Upcounty residents why they should get the cheaper, much-derided buses but the Downcounty must have the vastly more expensive light rail. (Your gentle blogger has argued for BRT for both modes.)

Next post: the plan to pay for transit. Here is the press release from the Planning Board:

Planners Recommend Bus Rapid Transit for Proposed Corridor Cities Transit Project; Planning Board Schedules Public Hearing July 6

SILVER SPRING – Montgomery County planners have recommended bus rapid transit, a system designed to move transit vehicles past traffic congestion on dedicated lanes, for the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT), a planned public transportation project linking Shady Grove with Clarksburg.

Following recommendations rolled out in the draft Gaithersburg West Master Plan, planners have endorsed a route for the CCT that follows a long established alignment from the Shady Grove Metro Station through Gaithersburg, Middlebrook and Germantown on its way to Clarksburg. However, planners recommend a change to the previously planned route through the Life Sciences Center near Gaithersburg.

Responding to a Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) report, planners also addressed a proposed expansion of I-270 as another strategy to improve mobility in the heavily traveled corridor. The expansion could include preferential lanes for high occupancy vehicles and drivers willing to pay a toll. Both projects would try to alleviate chronic traffic concerns in the I-270 Corridor, the economic engine of Montgomery County.

Planners made their recommendations based on MDOT’s Alternatives Analysis/Environmental Assessment report. Their recommendations go to the Planning Board, which has scheduled a July 6 public hearing to allow residents and others to have their say.

The board’s recommendation will be considered by the County Council’s transportation committee on July 13. Once the Council has collected input, it will send the county’s collective position on the two transportation projects back to the state.

The CCT has long been proposed along I-270, and the Planning Board has featured the CCT as an integral part of master plans for Gaithersburg West and Germantown. The transit route would support a growing number of workers and proposed new residences in those areas. In the state report, transportation planners evaluated premium bus, light rail and bus rapid transit. By choosing bus rapid transit, county planners have endorsed an alternative that is estimated to cost around $450 million. The CCT is expected to carry up to 27,000 people daily by 2030.

Planners say bus rapid transit would link activity centers in the corridor, maximize connections to other transit routes such as Metro, and increase opportunities for funding and construction phasing that would allow it to be built quickly.

As part of their proposal, planners recommend adding a busway segment through the Life Sciences Center that creates a loop serving Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, the Universities at Shady Grove, the emerging Johns Hopkins University campus, a redeveloped county Public Safety Training Academy site and other businesses. That new route, which would support proposed residential development, existing and planned heath sciences and hospital facilities, and biomedical research initiatives, has been the subject of much discussion as the Planning Board prepares to finalize its draft of the Gaithersburg West Master Plan next month.

The state report combines the CCT with I-270 highway improvements. Planners recommend that the CCT go first to emphasize the most affordable, green solution by combining transit and mixed use development to support a community less dependent on auto travel.

Planners reviewed the highway alternatives presented by the state and recommended a combination of express toll lanes and high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Express toll lanes provide a speedy and reliable option by charging a toll that varies depending on the time and day of use. The I-270 improvements, extending well into Frederick County, may cost up to $3.9 billion and could displace up to 260 homes, although transportation officials believe that number can be reduced significantly by minimizing the width of roadway shoulders and constructing retaining walls.

Adding a combination of high-occupancy lanes and tolls also would encourage people to commute longer distances by bus or rail and use the highway for carpooling to transit stations, planners say.

Planners also recommended that the County Council establish a working group to pursue potential funding for the CCT in addition to existing public transportation like Metro and Ride On.