Developers and Montgomery County officials who seek to transform west Gaithersburg’s sprawling office parks and remaining farmland into a densely populated “Science City” are investigating new ways to pay for construction of an upcounty transitway required before most of the building can go forward.
The push to secure local funding for a 15-mile Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) stems from the growing realization that chances of building the line anytime soon with traditional funding sources — primarily state and federal money — have become increasingly dim.
Gaithersburg development along the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway
The new, improved Adams Morgan
While state transit officials have said they intend to seek federal funding for a CCT, two other large Maryland transit projects — a $1.93 billion light-rail Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton and a $2.2 billion light-rail Red Line in Baltimore — have pulled ahead in a federal funding competition that typically takes six to 12 years. Meanwhile, the sluggish economy has done little to replenish depleted — and highly sought after — federal and state transportation funds.
Developers are so intent on building in upper Montgomery — and county officials say the area is critical to absorbing growth and spurring economic development — that the county and commercial property owners are eyeing ways to pay for a transitway without significant federal or state help. State transit planners have estimated that the most feasible transitway option — a busway with dedicated lanes — would cost $491 million to build. A more expensive light-rail line, which is estimated to cost $772 million, would take an additional 10 to 12 years to secure funding, planners have said.
The Montgomery Council made most of the area’s development contingent upon a transitway’s funding in 2010 to prevent new workers, shoppers and residents from swamping local roads that are already jammed.
A group of commercial property owners is paying $77,500 for a private engineering firm to analyze how a transitway could be built quickly and “in a cost-effective manner,” said David McDonough, who oversees real estate development for Johns Hopkins University. The Baltimore-based university owns 150 acres in the area. McDonough stressed that the transitway would need to have premium “rapid transit vehicles” that would function more like trains on rubber tires than traditional buses.
“Property owners absolutely, positively want to move forward with a CCT as soon as possible,” McDonough said.
McDonough said commercial property owners need better cost estimates before deciding whether they will help pay for a transitway’s construction. In Northern Virginia, businesses agreed to special taxes to contribute toward the cost of a Metrorail extension to Loudoun County, although most of the funding is coming from Dulles Toll Road revenue.
Developers and Montgomery officials are also waiting on findings of a task force, appointed by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), that is studying ways to finance construction of a 150-mile system of dedicated bus lanes across the county. That plan is estimated to cost $2.5 billion in today’s dollars, excluding land acquisition costs, and supporters have said they expect to rely mostly on local funding. While a CCT’s costs aren’t included in that $2.5 billion plan, supporters say it would be an essential part of any countywide network.