Montgomery Council tentatively approves plan to study network of bus-only lanes

November 19, 2013

Vowing that residents will be closely consulted at every step of what is likely a decades-long process, the Montgomery County Council tentatively approved a transportation master plan Tuesday calling for a network of bus-only lanes to move people through a congested region with little space left for new roads.

The blueprint for “bus rapid transit” (BRT), which will have a final vote next week, will exist solely on paper for the foreseeable future. There is no money for construction. Two other huge transit projects, the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway, a BRT line along the I-270 corridor from Shady Grove to Clarksburg, are ahead in the pipeline.

The council’s action authorizes officials only to study what it would take to build a 98-mile network of enhanced bus service on 10 of the county’s most congested roads, including Georgia Avenue from Glenmont to Olney; MD 355 (Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue) from Rockville as far south as Friendship Heights; U.S. 29 (Colesville Road) from Burtonsville to downtown Silver Spring; and Veirs Mill Road from Rockville to Wheaton.

About 75 percent of the envisioned system would feature “dedicated” lanes reserved for buses.

Despite the highly preliminary nature of what is known officially as the Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, neighborhood groups were concerned that traffic lanes and right of way would be claimed without consultation. To quell fears, Council members Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) and George Leventhal (D-At-Large) inserted language Tuesday into the document pledging that no steps would be taken without extensive public input. The amendment also provides for creation of citizen advisory groups for each corridor under consideration.

“This is too big not to have our communities involved in every way imaginable,” said Berliner, who chairs the council’s transportation committee. “We’re setting the stage for doing it the right way.”

Before taking a series of straw votes, the council resolved one issue that had deadlocked the three members of the transportation committee: the southern terminus for the segment of the MD355 bus corridor that would begin in Rockville. Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) favored extension to Friendship Heights, in anticipation of eventually linking up with a District BRT line. Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At-Large) called for the line to stop at the Grosvenor Metro station. Berliner, taking the middle ground, wanted a “dotted line” south of the Bethesda Metro stop to indicate that the county would go forward if it actually had a deal with the district. Berliner prevailed.

Council members, joined by Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier, hailed completion of the plan, although they acknowledged that in a best-case scenario it would only make the county’s mind numbing traffic “less worse,” not better.

“Traffic won’t get better,” Leventhal said. “It’s terrible to say, but there it is.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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